7 Things You Should Never To Say To A Preemie Parent
A little sensitivity does not hurt anyone. This article is not about you or your child. This is about another woman. A woman who has given birth prematurely and has now a baby who is not “full term” but “pre-mature or preemie”. She and her partner are already going through a lot – the shock of having a baby before they were fully prepared, the stress of dealing with the special needs of the child, the sorrow of having to part with the baby if he/she is kept in the NICU. What they do not want in their life currently are insensitive comments – well-meaning or otherwise – that take a jab at them for having a preemie baby. Now this is not to say that we expect you to be mean. Often times, you do not know what tell a preemie parent and that is the trigger for you to blurt out something wrong. So here is a list of 7 things that you should NOT(read never) say to a preemie parent:
7 Things Never to Say to a Preemie Parent
But he is so tiny!: Thank you very much. Everyone can see how small the baby is. There is absolutely no need to point it out. The parents know that their baby does not look like normal newborns because he was born before growing fully inside the womb. When you comment about the size, the parents are going to feel guilty, sad and helpless. And definitely do not say “Mine was much bigger when he was 2 weeks old”. Just don’t.What you can say instead is:
The baby is so beautiful!
On the brighter side, you escaped the last trimester: We know you are trying to be supportive when you say this. But it does not come out that way, trust us. The mother, will definitely not ever feel grateful she missed on the last few months – because it is at the expense of her child’s health. If she had any choice in the matter, she would have carried the child full term. So don’t make her feel selfish. There is no silver lining to this. None. What you can say instead is:
I know this must have been difficult. You know you can talk to me anytime, alright?
You are lucky! You are getting to sleep through night: Have you ever mustered the courage to say something like “I was like a zombie feeding the kid all the time”!, when the baby is in NICU? Do you really think the mother does not want to stay awake and feed her baby, if she had a choice? Also, do you really think she is sleeping through the night when her under-developed child is lying in a NICU somewhere? That’s right, no. What you can say instead is:
I know it is difficult, but try to get some rest. Your baby needs you to be strong and healthy when he is by your side
When will you be discharged?: This seemingly innocent question can devastate the parents. Chances are they do not know either when they can take their little one home. The doctors must be waiting for something to happen or the baby is just not ready for the outside world yet. In most cases doctors follow a “wait and watch” approach. This question is eating their brains out as well – and it must be difficult for them to say “we do not know yet”. But you can ask this:
Do you want me to take care of anything back home? Feed pets? Babysit an older child? Take parents for a medical check-up?
Don’t be paranoid about germs: The parents of preemies need to be extra careful about exposing their child to germs. This is because they have under-developed immunity system and any exposure might have more complicated reactions in them than a full-term baby. In fact, the doctors categorically ask parents to be vigilant and keep the baby away from all kinds of infections. So, contrary to your advice, that “The baby needs to be exposed to be stronger”, a preemie has to be over-protected and a preemie parent has to be paranoid about the child’s safety. What you can say instead is:
You are the most important person in your baby’s life. You have the complete authority to take all calls required. Listen to doctors. They know the best
Is the baby normal?: This level of curiosity might just push you away from the parent’s hearts. We all know that babies born before term are at a higher risk of having developmental problems. The preemie in question might or might not face some developmental delays. There is no point picking this wound. Instead, you can say:
Please know that you and your baby are in my thoughts and prayers
How did this happen? Did you do something different?: We saved the worst for last. Whatever be the medical reason for a premature delivery, a mother always feels guilty at some level that she could not keep the baby inside in the safety of her womb. The last thing she needs is a confirmation from you that is was in fact her fault. So what you can say instead is:
How can I help you? Don’t hesitate to ask for any sort of help. I am available
The point is this. You might not think you are being insensitive. That is because you have not walked her shoes. So, before going to meet a preemie parent, think in advance what you want to say. In fact you can even say ‘I do not know what to say’. That is much more honest and sincere than making some random comment without taking into consideration the plight of the parents. Read more about premature babies in our section here.