Things to say to parents of a preemie (and what not to say!)

parents of a preemie

In the UK,  around 60,000 babies are born prematurely each year – that’s 1 in 13 babies born before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Although many babies born prematurely will be born late preterm (at 34-36 weeks of pregnancy), and some of these may not need specialist care in a neonatal unit, for those who do, it can be an incredibly tough time for their parents. As a preemie progresses through their own neonatal journey, they have a special set of milestones that only their parents will truly be able to understand. Whether it’s leaving the incubator for the first time, or having their first cuddle, these are all things that parents of babies who weren’t born prematurely will probably never really understand, because we just didn’t experience it.

parents of a preemie

Unfortunately, some of our well meaning comments could come across as insensitive because unless we have been there before ourselves, we may not “get it” or we may just really not know what to say. So I’ve teamed up with Bliss – the UK’s leading charity for babies born prematurely who have recently launched a range of lovely Bliss Baby Cards to celebrate those preemie milestones – and parenting bloggers Odd HoggEmma Reed, Babies and Beauty – whose babies were born prematurely or preterm and sick – to share what to say to parents of a preemie (and of course what not to say too).

parents of a preemie

What to say

  • Is there anything I can bring you?
  • Is there anything I can do for you?
  • Can I clean your house/do your shopping/walk your dog whilst you are tied up at the hospital?
  • Call me any time if you need a rant and a cry.
  • How are you? instead of just how is the baby
  • And if you don’t know what to say it’s ok to say – ‘I’m lost for words’ or  ‘I don’t know what to say’ (that conveys enough emotion for us to know how you feel).
  • I’m here if you need me
  • We’re thinking of you

parents of a preemie

Things you should not say

  • When will he be getting home? (the doctors don’t know, you don’t know. Nobody knows until it suddenly happens)
  • I thought he was better now (the assumption that once you leave the hospital everything is magically ok. Preemies are prone to catching all sorts of bugs)
  • Can we visit?
  • He doesn’t look super sick in the photos, I’m sure he’ll be home soon
  • It must be horrible seeing him with all those tubes/wires
  • At least while he’s in the hospital you can get a full nights sleep (apart from getting up every 3 hours to express milk)
  • Will this baby be premature too? (when you’re pregnant with your next baby)
  • Is he not home because he doesn’t weigh enough?
  • Oh, but he was a good weight for his age
  • When can I hold him?
  • Other babies are born smaller
  • You are lucky he didn’t need more help
  • The words ‘at least’ – they seem to be always followed with something slightly offensive!
  • That we should be grateful for the situation we’re in, because it could be a lot worse.

So there you go, if you have a friend or a relative who has had a preemie baby and you’re not sure what to say and what not to say, then hopefully the above post will help you to know how you can be there for them. If you’re looking for more information on how you can help support parents with a baby in ICU read this and see the Bliss website page, ‘Other Family and Friends’. The latest issue of Little Bliss magazine contains an article on how to give support to parents with a baby in the neonatal unit also on (p26) – read it here.

parents of a preemie

The Bliss Baby Cards are available at a cost of £11.50 including postage and packing from the Bliss website. All proceeds from the sale of the cards support Bliss, the national charity for premature and sick babies and can be purchased here.

Are you a parent of a preemie baby? What do you think about the advice and cards above? Do leave a comment and share.

Things to say to parents of a preemie (and what not to say!)

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9 comments

  1. I didn’t realise so many babies were born premature. You would hope that the things to say and not to say were common sense (because they should be) but some people are so odd that they think it would be ok to say ‘they don’t look sick’. etc. Eye roll and move on I guess.

  2. This is a great post. Some people are very ignorant or just awkward when they don’t know what to say. But somethings are just obvious. More people need to read this!

  3. This is a fantastic post Talya. My twin nieces were premature and I know my SIL got sick of inconsiderate comments. It’s good to know what to say and what not to say if talking to parents of premature babies x

  4. I didn’t realise premature births were that common. The baby of one of my friends was born six weeks early. Reading through your do’s and dont’s, I think I’ve done okay! But definitely a list worth circulating.

  5. I didn’t realise it was so common either. I may have unintentionally said a couple of the what not to says. I am however, very practical and would offer any help I could even if I have to do it with my foot in my mouth x

  6. I’m so pleased this has helped to educate everyone about preemie births, how common they are and how you can better support parents of preemies going forward with the right words and actions.

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