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Written by Alana Romain
There’s nothing easy about spending any length of time in the NICU with your baby, but if your preemie came especially early or faced significant complications, life in the NICU can sometimes feel like it will never end. When my twins, Reid and Madeleine, were born at 25 weeks gestation in 2012, it was hard for my husband, Matt, and I to imagine that we’d ever be a “normal” family living together at home. But almost four months after they were born, our babies finally came home. We were overjoyed, but I was surprised to learn what a huge adjustment it can be to leave the hospital. And for parents bringing their preemies home in the winter — aka, prime time for germs that could be really dangerous to their vulnerable immune systems — the transition can sometimes feel overwhelming. So if discharge from the NICU is on the horizon, and you’re worried about how to handle it, here are some of the things I wish I’d known about surviving cold and flu season with a preemie.
First thing’s first: you are not being paranoid if you’ve suddenly turned into a huge germaphobe. No matter how lax you may have once been about germs and illness, the NICU inevitably turns pretty much every parent into a hand sanitizing germ-fearing crazy person. When we were facing our first winter with our twins, I was very strict about hand hygiene, denied any visitors who had even the slightest throat tickle, and insisted that our extended family members get flu shots (even if they’d never gotten them before in their lives). I knew that not everyone understood why these things were important, and struggled with some guilt at feeling like I was overreacting or being unreasonable. But the truth was, we’d been through so much during our twins’ hospitalization that the last thing I wanted was to see them readmitted because they’d caught RSV. Looking back now, I wish I’d known I didn’t have to apologize for wanting to protect my babies. And I’d much rather have been too over-the-top than be left feeling like I hadn’t done enough.
In all honesty, our first winter after the NICU was one we largely spent at home in a kind of self-imposed isolation — and I’m glad we did it that way. The twins were still so young and small, and the memory of hospital life was so fresh in our minds, that there didn’t seem to be any rush to get them out into the world and expose them to the coughing, sneezing masses. We maintained the NICU practices of hand washing and hand sanitizer, and did our best to keep Madeleine and Reid as protected as possible from illness (that became particularly difficult when Matt and I both ended up with a totally debilitating stomach flu, but with a little help from some loved ones, we were able to stay away from the twins long enough that they remained totally healthy). Coming home from the NICU is daunting no matter what time of year it happens, and it really is a big adjustment to figure out “life on the outside” when all you’ve known so far as a parent is nurses and doctors and hospitals. What I wish I’d known then is that it’s OK to be worried or nervous or uncomfortable, and it’s also totally fine if you aren’t a laid-back parent the way you might have been if you hadn’t had a preemie. Any parent who’s had a premature baby knows that it is scary and at times completely heartbreaking, and that the worries that you felt when they were born don’t necessarily go away as soon as you are discharged.
If you’re preparing to bring your preemie home this winter, congratulations, you made it! You’ve got so many wonderful experiences ahead of you. But navigating cold and flu season with a preemie really can be nerve-wracking and complicated, so it’s important that you do whatever you feel is best to get through it. No guilt or apologies required.
This post is part of the #HealthyThisWinter Campaign sponsored by AbbVie Canada. The experience and comments listed above are my own.