Preterm birth is a scary thought, and it’s even scarier if you’ve been told you might be at risk for it. Unfortunately, even knowing it might be coming, it’s still a situation that it can be hard to prepare for ahead of time. The ways that it is possible to prepare for the possibility of preterm birth can generally be divided into two equally important categories: the emotional and the practical.
Prepare yourself emotionally
While there are practical concerns, one of the biggest adjustments new parents have to make is that of expectation. For babies who are likely to be born prematurely, delivery isn’t always the end of a hospital adventure – often it’s just the beginning of a lengthy one. Knowing that the hospital stay might be a marathon, not a sprint, can help your family prepare to support each other through it. And if your little one stays gestating for long enough that your preparation isn’t needed, it’ll be a nice surprise.
One part of being prepared for a possible preterm birth is knowing about the different interventions that might be needed, from the medications to help your baby’s lungs and nervous system, to the interventions that might be needed during labor itself. New parents-to-be should always be prepared for delivery to go differently than their birth plan, but new moms at risk for preterm delivery should prepare for an even greater chance of something unexpected happening in labor. The more information you have about possible interventions, the more in-control you’ll probably feel, no matter what unexpected complication comes along.
It’s also important to prepare yourself for the fact that your little one might come into the world battling a few health concerns, and they will need your support.
Prepare yourself practically
The practical aspects of preparing for something that may or may not happen can be a bit of a trickier question. Sure, it’s easy enough to pack a bag for a little bit of a longer hospital stay, even if you’re not sure you’ll need it, but what about decisions that are a little bit higher-stakes than carrying a slightly heavier bag with you out to the car on the way to the hospital?
If you have the option to, you and/or your partner could consider taking a little bit of extra time off. This is because if your little one is born prematurely, depending on the gestational age at delivery, there’s a good chance they’ll have to spend some time in the neonatal unit before it’s even time for new parents to figure out how to settle the new arrival into their home. On the other hand, some families find that this can be a good time for one parent to go back to work earlier, and postpone their time off until after it’s time for their baby to come home, so looking into the possibility of flexibility in timing parental leave can also be helpful.
Researching your insurance coverage can also help in making sure your family is ready for any potential health challenges. In the US, a specific type of insurance may cover some doctors and other healthcare providers in a hospital, but not others. Finding out which providers staff the neonatal unit in the hospital where you’ll be delivering, and then checking with your insurance can help prevent unpleasant surprises on your hospital bill later.
It’s also important to know where the nearest major medical center that’s prepared to care for preterm for babies is located. Many smaller, local hospitals do not have the resources to care for preterm babies (especially babies born very early), so it’s a good idea to have a backup plan, and to consider arrangements for where you might need to stay.
The bottom line
“Expect the unexpected” is never going to stop being frustrating advice, especially when something as important as your baby’s health is on the line. However, being as prepared as possible in an unpredictable situation can help give you back a feeling of control. If you have questions about the possibility of preterm birth, or about signs of preterm labor, your healthcare provider may be able to help.
- “Taking Your Preemie Home.” KidsHealth. The Nemours Foundation, 2016. Web.
- “Caring for a Premature Baby: What Parents Need to Know.” HealthyChildren. American Academy of Pediatrics, Nov 2 2015. Web.
- “Preterm (Premature) Labor and Birth.” ACOG. FAQ087 from American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Sep 2015. Web.