Here’s how you can ensure mental wellness of parents dealing with premature babies

Dealing with premature babies is not easy in any way; it impacts your mental health in several ways. Here’s how you can navigate through the situation.
parental mental health
Having a preterm baby means you need to be extra cautious. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
Dr Vikas Satwik Updated: 13 May 2021, 10:11 am IST
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Parenthood is a joyous journey and when couples have their baby after nine months, the occasion becomes a celebration for them as well as for their near and dear ones. However, at times complications at birth, especially with a preterm baby, who is born too soon, can turn the entire situation into a nightmare. Parents with a premature baby feel overwhelmed and face mental health difficulties, as they ‘re constantly worried about their newborn’s health and overall development.

Normally, the gestation period of a human being lasts for about 40 weeks. The birth of a child that takes place before the 37th week of pregnancy is known as a premature/ preterm baby. A premature baby needs special care (might need help in breathing as well), and hence is taken care of either by the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) or Special Care Nursery (SCN). NICU is essentially for babies who are in a more critical condition than others. 

Causes of premature birth

In most cases of preterm birth, the reason is unknown.  Some of the known reasons include — an underlying medical condition of the mother (like gestational diabetes), history of premature births, late maternal age, obesity, problems with the uterus/cervix/placenta, high levels of stress, vaginal bleeding, preeclampsia, etc.  

premature babies
You need to stay calm to deal with the entire situation, especially amid covid-19. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Preeclampsia is a condition that usually affects the mother in the second term of her pregnancy. Women who are diagnosed with preeclampsia have proteinuria (protein in the urine), oedema (fluid retention), and high blood pressure. This condition generally comes to light during routine check-ups — a mild case of preeclampsia can be monitored with regular blood pressure and urine tests. If this condition is not taken seriously, it could lead to complications and also prove to be life-threatening at times. 

Mental state of parents after the birth of a premature baby

Cases of post-natal depression are very well-known, even for those who have healthy full-term babies, and so we can only imagine the plight of the parents who’ve had a premature baby.  Studies show that the parents of a premature baby go through a lot of anxiety, stress, and depression. And so, taking care of the parents of a preterm baby is as important as the health of the baby itself. It is painful for a new mother to see her baby covered with tubes. 

Parents who are craving to hold their baby and lead a normal life, have no say/control on the time that they get to spend with their baby. They miss out on the opportunity to bond with him/her, right after delivery, as the baby is taken into intensive care immediately. Statistics show that 40 percent of mothers and 36 percent of fathers of preterm babies go through clinically diagnosed anxiety and depression, in the weeks that follow the birth of their child. Although the symptoms of depression or anxiety do improve over the next few weeks, when checked again after six months, most parents still need more time to recover. 

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How to deal with anxiety and stress 

It is understandable that the experiences of the parents of a premature baby are extremely different from the ones that are born at full term. In India, cases of premature birth are very common, and hence, we need to spread awareness of how to deal with the feelings of depression, anxiety, and stress. The parents need to be in a healthy mental state to take care of their baby. Therefore, we want to offer a helping hand by sharing a few tips for the parents to deal with stress/anxiety. 

  • The mother may visit her child in the nursery from time to time. Even if the doctor does not permit skin-to-skin contact, at least she can get to see her child and be close to him/her. 
  • If breastfeeding is not an option, there is always an option to pump the milk through a tube. 
  • Support groups can be an efficient way for both mothers and fathers to deal with their stress/ anxiety. PREPARE is one such group that has been launched in India for the first time by Motherhood, where one can go and share their problems with people, who are going through the same ordeal. Knowing and meeting people who have gone through the same suffering and overcoming it, reassures the parents that soon all will be well.
  • During their time at the hospital, proper therapists/health specialists could work closely with the parents to make them feel at ease with their situation. 

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There are times when the mother might be released from the hospital, earlier than the child. It might be difficult to leave the child at the hospital, but one needs to trust that their child is in the good hands of the doctor. She should beep in constant touch with the doctor for frequent updates. While we know these are tough times due to the pandemic, with the right measures and awareness from doctors, this phase will also pass. 

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About the Author

Dr Vikas Satwik, Consultant Paediatrician & Neonatologist, Motherhood Hospitals, Bangalore ...Read More

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