Premature Birth: Coping With Worry
The arrival of a baby may bring both joy and anxiety into family life. As a parent of a premature baby, however, you may feel that you’ve got more than your fair share of worrying to do.
Rest assured: your anxiety is normal — and it even has a positive aspect. A recent study points to one benefit of the heightened attention a preemie gets after a premature birth: it can lay a strong foundation for a bond between parents and child that continues over a lifetime.
More likely than not, once it’s clear that your preemie baby is going to be okay, you’ll start to feel a little calmer. You’ll learn to trust your ability to assess your child’s condition, attend to her needs, and ask for help if necessary. After many checkups with positive results, you’ll gradually start to believe that your baby will stay healthy and will continue to progress well.
Don’t Let Worry Become the Problem
It’s natural to worry as you adjust to caring for a premature baby. But what if the worry persists, even when things are getting better? When does attention become overprotection? Though loving care is essential for a premature baby's development and growth, constant worry can be stifling. When a child feels that her parent is always anxious about her, she may begin to take on some of that anxiety and start to feel vulnerable. If this continues beyond the first year of her life, she might come to doubt her abilities, and to feel uncertain about her general health and strength.
In the long run, you'll want to strike a balance between being protective and letting your child gain independence. If you find this difficult, remember, you’re not alone: parents of a premature baby often find it harder to let go, even when it's time to do so.
Acknowledge the Anxiety About Your Preemie
The key to managing your worry is recognizing it. Then, slowly but surely, with lots of understanding and support, you can begin to let go of the old ghosts that remind you of your child's fragility as a newborn.
Nobody can fully share your feelings, but there are people who can help you handle them. Learning to cope with real or exaggerated concerns for your child's well-being will give you the strength you need to tackle this challenge. Keep in mind that many families are going through the same or similar struggles.
To learn about the story of one such family, you can follow the video journey of Aaron and Lauren, parents of Addyson, as they face the stress and uncertainty of Addyson’s early days and weeks and also celebrate her growth and successes:
Find Support Groups and Resources About Premature Birth
Though fears about your child's health can be difficult to overcome, reaching out to others can help reduce some of the anxiety. Try to get as much help and information as you can from the NICU staff and your doctors. Speak to friends who allow you to vent your frustrations. You could even meet others in support groups and online forums who are in the same boat, or who have been in a similar situation before. For starters, you can try some of these:
Take little steps to bond with your baby, for example, by practicing kangaroo care. Place a soft blanket over her back to keep her nice and warm, while she’s wearing only a preemie diaper of the appropriate size to ensure she stays dry and comfortable. Knowing you are doing all you can might give you more of a sense of control.
All of us have faced circumstances that shake our sense of security about life. If you feel overwhelmed with guilt or worry, you could also try talking to parents of babies born to term — your own parents, even — and you’ll probably discover that they have experienced similar feelings.
Remember: you’ll want your child to grow up confident in her abilities and opportunities. Helping her develop a balanced perspective is among the greatest gifts you can give her.
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