Pre-Term Babies - what's up with that?!

A pre-term baby is defined as birth prior to 37 weeks gestation. Typically they like you to be 40 weeks along of course, but the risks are way less if you hit the 37 week mark. I had just hit 32 weeks when my little peanut decided it was time. 75% of pre-term births are for no reason at all, while I don't know the full story on why Jack came when he did, I do know I was very lucky. When babies are born that early they could have a wide array of problems, not everything is done growing and many things need to be done on the inside! Children born at 32 weeks run the risk of a number of things, in order to take them home from the NICU they have to be able to eat on their own, maintain their own body temperature, breathe on their own and spend a minimum of 24 hours without the aid of any machinery. There are also all of the additional tests from hearing and seeing to what felt like hundreds of blood tests, to the car seat test.

Once Jack was safely out, he was whisked away quickly and immediately put on a CPAP machine, which assisted with his breathing. Luckily he only needed this machine for a few hours. He took up residence in a cozy incubator and had a feeding tube and IV placed in. I couldn't hold him until the next day, which killed me. I did get to stare at him through the glass and rub his little back, it was all so surreal. Overnight you become an expert in the medical lingo, one minute you were deciding what to have for lunch and the next you're deciding things that could impact your child for the rest of his life. Jack's main problems were feeding, as he was too small to try breast feeding or take a bottle and his little heart would sometimes pause for a second, because he had to teach himself to breath normally. They call this condition apnea, similar to what adults who suffer from sleep apnea have, the fix for this involved adding some caffeine to his feeds and of course, just being as clever as he is and teaching himself how to breathe properly. Thankfully everything on the inside seemed to be developed enough to continue growing while he was hanging out in his incubator.

I will never forget the sounds of the NICU, a lot of beeping machinery, parents and visitors talking in hushed tones, nurses popping around to assist and teach you new things every day and lots of crying nuggets. When you're in the NICU, you quickly discover crying is actually a good thing to hear, other then the obvious painful procedures, like putting in a new feeding tube, crying typically meant growth and strength. You become friends with the other parents, cheering them on, celebrating each of their milestones along with your own. Its a situation that no one ever wants to find themselves in, but you find comfort in the others experiencing it with you.

Obviously my experience was very different from the typical newborn experience. I had to learn to do things very differently then I was expecting. Every three hours Jack would need to be feed, even though it was through a tube, studies show that kangaroo care (which is simply skin to skin with the baby and parent) is the best thing you can do with a preemie. So I would take Jack's temperature, change his diaper amidst all of the wires, carefully pull him out and settle him on my chest, then the nurse would come over for the report and hook his food into his tube. We would snuggle for about an hour post feed, then I would wrap him up and place him back into his bed, allowing me about 45 minutes to pump and eat something before the process began all over again. I had to learn how to bathe him with his feeding tube in, how to remove and replace fresh wires every few days. It was an exhausting process, you're not at home bonding, you're attempting to do that in a small medical bay, on a strict schedule and forcing yourself to go home for a few hours of sleep and a shower each night is just the cherry on top.

While most newborns celebrate milestones like their first bath, first smile, sitting up etc. Our reality was celebrating Jack's first day wearing clothes, getting his feeding tube out, his first bottle,  his first night out of his incubator and eventually coming home. We have now, happily, joined all of the other new parents in celebrating all of the usual amazing firsts.

I am happy to report Jack just had his 4 month check up and is very healthy. With the exception of needing extra shots during cold and flu season and having to wear a brace to correct a hip problem. He is cruising along like most 4 month olds, the doctor said you wouldn't even know he was a preemie. He is so happy, smiling all the time, almost sitting up and following everything with his huge eyes. He loves to snuggle with his giraffe and definitely knows who his parents are. We've come a long way in 4 months, our experience, while difficult and not something you dream off when you're thinking about what your life will be like as a new parent, was something we needed to go through. Our little family is thriving, Jack is a strong little fighter and will forever be our miracle babe.

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