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Caring for Preemies through their first winter

Wednesday, November 16, 2016 10:20 PM | Claire (Administrator)

Caring for Preemies through Their First Winter: No Experience is the same.  Written by Carolyn Leighton-Hilborn

When I had my first child at 31 weeks, I can honestly say I knew very little about prematurity or the common winter illnesses that can threaten a baby born early. He was somewhat atypical for a preemie because he was “bigger” and “healthier” than physicians would have normally expected and he did extremely well during his hospital stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Although he had weight and size going for him, he did experience respiratory distress in the early days. Overall though, he was what we call a “feeder and grower”, and he came home just shy of a month after his birthday.

That first winter was uneventful and he had a very healthy first year. While I would like to say it is because of something I did, I did not do anything out of the ordinary to ward off illness. We did not live in lockdown as we sometimes hear families are instructed to do during the winter months. Our paediatrician was consulted with each month and he closely monitored our son’s health, but he did not “prescribe” keeping our child indoors away from exposure to others.

Fast forward to two winters later and I was now the mom of three little boys, including 27 weeker twins, who arrived in the spring. They each had the “rollercoaster” NICU stay. Their hospital stay was challenging and they faced several issues with their health– one of their greatest issues was ongoing respiratory distress. The fact they were born so prematurely and had immature lungs, put them at greater risk for contracting common winter illnesses, which healthy adults normally dismiss as a “little cough or cold”.

My husband and I were now well-trained on good hand hygiene, the importance of cleaning our hands often, especially when holding our young babies.

In December we hosted our regular holiday dinner. Twenty family members attended. In advance we asked people to avoid attending if they had any cold symptoms, no matter how minor. We explained how the twins still had immature immune systems and were much more susceptible to catching illnesses. When our guests arrived I reminded them of the importance of good hand hygiene – wash your hands in the washroom or use hand sanitizer stationed throughout the house – and avoided having the babies passed around from family member to family member. Things went smoothly and the babies remained healthy.

But that winter was not illness free. I reflect back on a frightening experience that took place late winter while I was home with my three boys while my husband was at work. One of the twins had a terrible cold with a wet cough, clogged up with excess mucous, and a constant runny nose. He was one unhappy baby boy. While changing his diaper he started to turn blue after a fit of coughing. I did what I could to get him breathing properly while calling 911 and an ambulance arrived quickly. The EMTs were able to assess his vitals and agreed he should be seen at the emergency room. We arrived in the ER with what I call my “bible” in hand, describing each twins’ healthcare, conditions and appointments scheduled. I was like a walking, talking medical text book, rhyming off his history, his conditions and his recent illness, with ease. I received some looks of bewilderment as I provided the lengthy healthcare history for this tiny little boy. I was often asked if I was a nurse. I also received kind words and messages of congratulations for knowing this boy so well, and being the strong advocate he needs.

This hospital experience was a reminder of how important my role as a parent is to this little boy and his brothers. It was also a great reminder that I cannot control everything, no matter how many precautions we take.

As for the third little guy, the one who had the rockiest road, the loopiest rollercoaster ride through the NICU, he was the healthiest boy in the house that winter.



This post is part of the #HealthyThisWinter Campaign sponsored by AbbVie Canada. The experience and comments listed above are my own.


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