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Growing a baby and preparing for a new addition to the family is already a big life-changing event for a mom, but when that baby makes an early and unexpected arrival, you can be sure mom and dad are thrown into a loop. They might not have everything they need quite yet, plus, they probably don't have premie-friendly gear. Oh, boy.
If you know a mom who just had a premie, you need to first read the story that follows, and try to understand where she might be emotionally. Here's a picture of my experience:
My son was born two months early. Although he was completely healthy (thank the Lord!), he spent a month in the NICU to gain some weight and learn to bottle feed before I got to take him home. It's incredibly depressing for a mom to walk out of a hospital leaving her baby behind, which probably explains why I spent 8-10 hours in the NICU holding, feeding, and rocking my baby every single day.
Being in the NICU is a stressful experience, too, although you get used to it after a bit. Slim semi-sheer curtains are the only things that separate you and your baby from everyone else in the room. Throughout your visit, you hear machines beeping in surround sound, the occasional wailing of babies, and the constant murmur of nurses. It's weird to have that as the background noise while you're trying to bond with your newborn. There really isn't real privacy.
On top of that, you become obsessed with your kid's stats. You learn so much from the nurses––what this number means, where that level should be, how much he should be drinking within a certain period of time, etc. It was like training for a marathon: we had numbers and goals to reach before we crossed the finish line. One day we'd take a step forward, and the next day slip back. It was a draining roller coaster of emotions for me; so much so, I had terrible jaw pain that month from all the grinding I was doing in my sleep.
This is what it could be like for a mom with a premie in the hospital. It sucks and it's stressful, but your gifts can show that you're there for her, supporting her and loving her. You can do so with helpful, practical gifts, such as these:
1. Premie-Sized Sleep Sacks
Although the hospital usually supplies clothing her baby can use, it's so much nicer for a mom to be using something that's her own. The HALO SleepSacks come in premie size, but you can buy a size small that'll be used longer. I loved this SleepSack so much I bought two while my son was in the NICU, and bought a couple others when he grew out of them. They're so easy to put on and wash, but most importantly, it keeps a premie baby warm––which he/she might need some help doing for a bit.
2. Premie Formula & Formula Gadgets
In the case that mom isn't able to breastfeed (like yours truly), pitching in to buy some of the premie's formula is an enormous help you'd offer. First, find out what formula her baby is taking. For a couple months, my son was on a higher-calorie formula, Similac Neosure, to help him gain weight before we switched him to regular newborn formula.
Using formula means the mom is going to be doing a lot of mixing (which is so annoying when you're on the go), so a few gadgets can help make it easier for her. Start with Dr. Brown's Formula Mixing Pitcher; she'll be able to make a big batch she can keep in the fridge and not have to mix at 3AM. Another great gadget is a Mixie baby bottle. I wish I had known about this when I was formula feeding!
There are also premixed formula bottles you can buy. They're more expensive, but they're great to have handy during trips.
3. Diapers and Wipes
My kiddo jumped into newborn-sized diapers not long after he came home, so I ended up returning a pack of premie diapers. Until then, though, it was nice to have a couple premie packs at home when he arrived. Most baby shower diaper cakes have bigger diapers, so chances are mom doesn't have diapers at home that'll fit her baby. If you want to supply her with some, I recommend diapers for sensitive skin and Water Wipes. Include a receipt though; she can exchange it for a bigger size if she doesn't use it, and your gift will go a long way.
4. Restaurant Gift Cards
Our church friends were so eager to help with meals, but I was too frazzled to deal with the coordination and preferred to hold off on the meals until we brought our baby home. In the meantime, though, I wasn't in the mood to cook most nights. So when my husband would come home from work, we'd go out to eat, and head back to the hospital for a bit.
Restaurant gift cards will come in handy when that mom and dad just need some normalcy, and maybe some time together where they're not thinking about their current situation. You could go a step further and prepare a date night for them with a movie gift card! When our baby was approaching his discharge time, one neonatologist insisted we take a date night. It was an excellent suggestion––especially since we had no idea the next time we'd see a movie in theaters was when the baby was walking. Ha!
5. iTunes or Audible Gift Card
While I spent those hours on end in the NICU, I listened to the entire Serial podcast! I had my earphones plugged in, and a tiny and sweet sleeping baby on my chest. Listening to the podcast blocked out the annoying beeping monitors and random conversations happening around us. It was a nice escape––especially with the riveting storytelling!
I think it'd be a treat for a premie mom just needing a mental break and some normalcy with her baby. Some new music, podcast, or audiobook might do just the trick. She may not even have thought about it, so your gift could turn her to a new hobby!
6. Baby Book
When my husband would come home from work, we'd eat a quick meal and head over so he can spend some kangaroo time with his baby boy. There were moments when I'd be a little bored just sitting and staring at my husband, so I got to working on my son's baby book. I was able to write down the details while the memories of his (crazy) birth were still fresh. It was a nice activity to do that was creative and still baby-centric.
As with any gift, include a receipt. They may already have SleepSacks or enough formula, so support them by giving them the flexibility to exchange your gift to get something else they need.
Alright, now I want to hear from my fellow premie moms. Anything else you'd add to the list? Was there something you wish you had back then?
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