The Do's and Don'ts of Caring For A Premature Baby
Dr. Jennifer Gunter, author of "The Preemie Primer: A Complete Guide for Parents of Premature Babies--from Birth through the Toddler Years and Beyond" writes about her own experience of giving birth to preemie triplets.
Dr. Jennifer Gunter, author of The Preemie Primer: A Complete Guide for Parents of Premature Babies--from Birth through the Toddler Years and Beyond gave birth to preemie triplets, but one did not survive. In this moving and information-packed book, she shares her story of coping with such loss and caring for her two boys amidst various medical crisises.
Commitmentnow.com: Tell us your story of having premature babies.
Dr. Jennifer Gunter: I was pregnant with triplets. I ruptured my membranes (broke my water) at 22 1/2 weeks, which is too early for 99% of babies to survive. My first son, Aidan, delivered the next day and passed away. I managed to stay pregnant, due in large part to modern medicine, for 3 1/2 weeks, when I developed an infection and needed a c-section at 26 weeks. My sons we born weighing 1 lb 11 oz and 1 lb 13 oz.
Commitmentnow.com: Tell us how you helped your body then reach the 26 week mark and how you coped with the loss you had to face during your pregnancy.
Dr. Gunter: To get to 26 weeks I took antibiotics for a week in the IV, to reduce the risk of infection. I had a stitch placed in my cervix to strengthen it, and took several medications to try and stop contractions. I took magnesium sulfate (makes you feel terrible), then indomethacin, then nifedipine. I also received a shot of steroids to help my babies’ lungs mature.
Commitmentnow.com: What are five things you feel every parent of a premature baby should know and understand that you wish you knew at the beginning of this journey?
1) Take it one day at a time.
2) Take care of yourself. When you are stressed it affects your baby negatively, so taking care of yourself IS taking care of your baby.
3) Just being around your baby will help.
4) Learn as much as you can about the medicines for preemies. It is complex, but you can learn a lot more than you think.
5) Hook up with other mothers and fathers who are a little bit a head of you in the NICU stay. Getting advice from someone who has been there is indispensable.
Commitmentnow.com: What advice do you have for mothers of premature babies who are coping with a lot of anxiety, grief and sadness over the situation?
Dr. Gunter: Understand that your feelings are normal. Make taking care of yourself part of your day, even if it is just a 5 minute walk around the block. Talk with the social worker in the NICU and if your feelings seem more intense than they should, ask to see a counselor or call your gynecologist to get screened for post partum depression and PTSD.
Commitmentnow.com: What can parents do to help their premature baby while they are in the nursery being cared for?
Dr. Gunter: Be involved. Ask questions and learn what every medication is for. Learn the developmental cues that help you understand when your baby is stable enough to have touch. When they are ready for kangaroos care (holding them against your skin) do it as much as they will let you!
Commitmentnow.com: What crises did you face after your twins were born--and how did you manage to cope with these different crises?
Dr. Gunter: The biggest crisis for us was Oliver being diagnosed with a serious heart defect soon after birth. He was about 2 weeks old and they found one of his heart valves was so small that he was not getting enough blood to his lungs. He also had a hole in his heart. The hole could wait to be fixed, but the valve needed to be corrected. We got through it just taking it one day at a time.
Commitmentnow.com: What challenges do premature babies often face when it comes to oxygen--and is there anything you learned that could be of help to other parents of premature babies?
Dr. Gunter: 50,000 premature babies every year in the United States will develop chronic lung disease and many will need oxygen to come home. It seemed so hard at first, but after a week it was as if we had been using it for years. The oxygen equipment is far less daunting than it seems.
Commitmentnow.com: What helped you cope with the grief after your boys came home and you were facing many medical challenges?
Dr. Gunter: I think time helped the most. Also, a friend of mine lost her baby at birth (a term baby). She came to visit me when I was in the hospital. She just sat with me. We didn't say much. When I asked how she managed she said, "I don't know, you just do. It gets better with time." Just having her sit there was a testimony to the fact that you could live through this.
If you are overwhelmed, ask for a grief counselor. There are skilled people who can help.
Commitmentnow.com: What advice do you have for those dealing with health insurance issues?
Dr. Gunter: Health insurance is hard, because everyone has a different plan. I knew a lot about health insurance as a doctor. Read your benefits, speak up for yourself, and if you are having a procedure make sure it has been pre-authorized.
Commitmentnow.com: What are some things parents of premature babies should request and ask for when it comes to their care, when they first born and later on after they are sent home?
Dr. Gunter: Ask to have the doctors review the medications including oxygen. Give a dose of each medication at least once before going home. Make sure you have all your follow up appointments. Make sure you are hooked up for physical therapy. Learn about the best way to care for your baby's nervous system. For different babies, that may mean different things.
Commitmentnow.com: What government and assistance programs are available to parents of premature babies?
Dr. Gunter: SSI may be available to some as well as WIC. Every county has a program for children with special needs, the problem is funding varies dramatically. Ask your social worker, talk with other parents, and check out my book—I have included a list of resources.
Commitmentnow.com: What do parents need to stay constantly aware of after their babies come home? What can help premature babies stay healthy in a home environment and what can parents do to continue their children's progress?
Dr. Gunter: Parents need to be aware of eating and growth issues and should pay particular attention to the developmental milestones. Also, it’s important to be obsessive about clean hands and do not let anyone come over who isn't up to date on their vaccines. Infection is the most common reason a preemie will be re-admitted to the hospital during their first year.
Commitmentnow.com: What are some ways to keep infections under control?
Dr. Gunter: Keep alcohol based hand sanitizer at home and in the diaper bag. Limit trips to doctor's appointments. Avoid daycare if at all possible. Do not let people come over who have not been vaccinated, and limit visits from children, especially during cold and flue season. Make sure you and your baby get all your vaccinations.
Commitmentnow.com: Finally, what are ten things every parent of a premature child should do to ensure their child gets the maximum care and continues progressing as well as they can?
1) Be persistent
2) Don't worry about offending people. Your friends will understand and those who don't are not important.
3) Ask for help when you need it.
4) Remember to eat. You wouldn't want to fly in an airplane if your pilot was starving.
5) Know the names and doses of each medication.
6) Take each medication to every doctor's visit.
7) Get all your vaccines.
8) Get screened for post partum depression and PTSD.
9) Take tons of pictures and videos!
10) Cuddle your baby as much as you can.
Commitmentnow.com: How is your family doing now?
Dr. Gunter: We are thriving. My boys are starting grade 1 in the fall without aids.
To purchase The Preemie Primer click here.
About the Author: Jennifer Gunter, MD, is an internationally renowed OB/GYN and a leading expert in the field of women's pain medicine. She lives with her family in Mill Valley, California.