premature or special needs baby
Special needs

When your new baby has special needs

Some babies are born prematurely or might have special medical conditions that require a stay in the hospital’s neonatal intensive-care unit (NICU). Here is some advice to help parents through this challenging time.

Special beginnings – When your new baby has special needs

It’s a subject that is rarely discussed in pregnancy books or antenatal classes – the possibility that your baby might be born with special needs. Some babies are born premature, others may have a condition that that affects them physically or mentally.

These babies will need special care in hospital. In some cases, parents will know in advance of the birth that their baby will be born with a problem. But regardless, when your new baby has special needs it’s still difficult news to come to terms with. It’s normal to feel grief, anger, shock and even guilt. But there is support out there – ask your midwife or doctor to put you in touch with a social worker or counsellor to help you talk through your feelings. Do contact support groups as it’s useful to talk to parents of babies with the same condition. Getting the right information and support for your family will help you to cope through a challenging time.

When your new baby has special needs

Infants born with health challenges will usually need to say in hospital in the neonatal unit after the mother has gone home. If your hospital doesn’t have the facilities to care for your baby, they may go to a different hospital by road or by air. Mothers are encouraged to get to know the baby as soon possible after the birth, even if the baby is in an incubator.

As a parent, you can help to care for your baby by:

1. Providing and feeding expressed breast milk to your baby.

2. Providing skin-to-skin care/kangaroo care.

3. Providing comforting touch and comfort holding.

4. Helping with day-today care of baby such as nappy changing or bathing.

NICU: When your new baby has special needs

The length of a baby’s stay in neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) will vary from days to months and will depend on the baby’s size, prematurity and medical circumstances. Many babies will have easily treatable conditions and can be discharged back to you after a few hours/days of observation and care. These are a few reasons why a baby can be admitted to a maternity hospital’s neonatal services: The majority of babies in NICU are there because they were born weeks before their due date.

There are lots of reasons why babies are born prematurely and usually there is nothing that mothers could have done to prevent it. One in 10 babies are born early, and babies born before 34 weeks may need extra help with breathing, feeding and keeping warm.

Premature babies

Prematurity is the term used to describe when a baby is born early. For most women, pregnancy lasts around 40 weeks. Babies that are born between 37 and 42 weeks are considered full-term and babies born before 37 weeks are considered premature. Even if a woman does everything ‘right’ during pregnancy, she still can have a premature baby.

There are some known risk factors for premature birth. For example, one risk factor is having a previous preterm birth. Those women at highest risk of having a premature baby are those who have: previously had a premature birth, a multiple pregnancy or a certain uterine or cervical abnormalities.

When your new baby has special needs

When a baby is born prematurely, they will generally be taken immediately or very soon after birth to a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) or Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU). Then, depending on the baby’s gestation, birth weight or how sick they are, the baby can face days, weeks or months in hospitals. The chance of survival depends on the baby’s degree of prematurity and birth weight.

A full-term pregnancy is said to last between 37 and 42 weeks. Two thirds of babies born at 24 weeks gestation who are admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) will survive to go home. Ninety eight percent of babies born at 30 weeks gestation will survive.

When the baby is well enough they will be discharged from hospital and allowed to go home. Some babies need to go home with specialised monitors or equipment. Many premature babies will need extensive followup hospital appointments in the months and sometimes years following their discharge and will need to be referred for different therapies.

For further information:

The Irish Neonatal Health Alliance Facebook page

When your new baby has special needs you can help by:

1. Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding is essential for babies, so mothers are encouraged to provide their own breast milk. Breast milk contains proteins that help fight infection and promote growth. Although your baby might not be able to feed from your breast or a bottle at first, breast milk can be given in other ways – or frozen for later use. Begin pumping as soon after birth as possible. Aim to pump at least six to eight times a day, roundthe- clock. It’s important to do whatever must be done to ensure you and your baby’s well-being.

When your new baby has special needs

2. Your healing touch
Once your baby is stable, you will be able to hold him. The nurses will show you how to do this and your baby will benefit greatly from physical contact with you. Visit your baby to touch and hold him as often as possible. It is very important that both mother and father develop a healthy bond with their infant. Studies have proven that newborns who are held, spoken to, and treated lovingly are more likely to thrive. Hold your baby under your robe or shirt to allow skin-to-skin contact. Skin-to-skin contact helps to stabilise your baby’s temperature, heart and breathing rates.

3. Make sure you understand your baby’s special care at home
Before you bring your child home from the hospital, make sure you understand any special care instructions. Write them down if need be. You should rehearse any medical procedures with a nurse or doctor to be sure you are clear about what you need to do. Having another family member there while instructions are given can help you to remember the steps.

More like this:

20 tips to support your premature baby
Helping your premature baby
The first 72 hours

Ask Allison

Q My sister-in-law and I both work three-day weeks and we help each
other out with child minding on our working days, which up until recently has worked out really well. Between us, our kids are aged between five and nine years – the problem is that it’s now become quite apparent that we have very different parenting styles. I prefer my two daughters (seven and nine) to have a structured day. For example, in my house, we have allocated times for television and iPads, etc. My sister-in-law, however, lets the kids run loose after school – homework is ignored and my kids end up wired after eating sugary treats all afternoon. I am considering looking at after-school childcare for the kids, but I’m worried that this is going to cause a family argument. Is there a diplomatic way that I can ask my sister-in-law to introduce some discipline into her child-minding days? It certainly doesn’t do her two kids any harm when I am minding them in my own house!

In a word, no, there is no diplomatic way to do this as it may very likely seem like your saying that your parenting style is better than
hers. As L’Óreal says, ‘now here comes the science bit.’ Dr. Kaylene
Henderson, a child psychiatrist, wrote a very interesting blog about ‘the
science behind the Mummy Wars’. She explains that before she had
children of her own she hadn’t been aware of how parents have a
very specific sense of the right parenting style. She also found that parents could be very definite in defending their chosen parenting style. Dr. Henderson, who describes herself as a curious, scientific, open-minded person, was surprised at how defensive parents could be and, at times, of their judgemental attitude towards each other. She explained the neurology of the Mummy Wars; okay, I’ll need you to bear with me for a second. Warning; I’m about to use some neuro-techie language.

Why do we judge each other?
As we have all had different experiences, this means that we all have very different memories stored in our brains. Most of our memories are ‘explicit’ memories – these are ones that we can recall easily such as important dates that mean something to us; important birthdays, special events or stories of and about our lives.
There is another type of memory called ‘implicit’ memory that plays a
key role in our parenting. This type of memory is the stuff that you do on autopilot. Psychologists call these heuristics or rules of thumb –
such as tying your shoelace, or driving your car (once you have learnt
to do both first!). Otherwise we’d really waste a huge amount of time
pondering over tasks that we have readily available to us. This seems to be where the science bit of our parenting style kicks in. This implicit memory goes all the way back to when you were an infant being parented by your parents. This is when you started the process of storing up how they did it into your memories.
Unless you make a conscious choice and effort to parent differently, what you saw and unconsciously learnt will be your automatic go-to parenting style.

We learn habits
This can really kick into gear when we feel our parenting style is
being mirrored or highlighted by disapproval from another parent. I know the cold sweat you feel when your child decides to make their outstanding bad behaviour performance at, of course, the most public and worst time. The implicit autopilot of how your parents dealt with these outbursts will flow unconsciously from you if you haven’t worked super hard to be aware and consciously change the old habits.
What’s happening for the on-looking parent is that they see you doing something they are used to doing, but you are doing it all wrong. Simply, because that is not how they know how to do it.

Find a way that works
You both have different parenting styles – who is to say which type is correct? You just need to know what works best for your family and that’s the bottom line. The irksome feelings won’t go away. You can talk to your sister-in-law, but I’m adding a caveat that it would be hard not to hurt her feelings. What we’re possibly looking at is that you prefer a more structured form of parenting, whereas your sister-in-law has a more permissive style. I’m not sure the two styles can mix, the mixture is a bit like oil and water.
If a collaborative shared form of parenting style can be agreed upon, then that is great, but our learnt hardwiring may prove difficult to change despite the intent to do so.
Perhaps, your own instinct of changing childcare might work best for you. In terms of making childcare work; the fit is ultimately the most
important aspect as you want a cohesive congruent feeling of the other caregiver to just ‘getting it’, like in any good partnership. Best of luck
with this and I wish you both well.



Q. I’m would like to start an exercise programme that will benefit my emotional health as much as my physical health, but I don’t know which type of class would be best. Should I consider choosing from yoga, pilates, tai chi, or could you recommend a class, please?

A It’s great that you have decided to get into exercise. The benefits to you are going to be great. You’ll sleep better, have more energy, better skin, reduced stressed, not to mention all the amazing physical benefits of your clothes fitting better, and looking healthy, trim and toned! My advice to you would be to try them all. Even if some don’t offer pay-as-you-go sessions, if you get in touch directly with the instructor, they will almost always let you try it out first to see if it’s for you. All of the above things that you mentioned are great for mental health, so it really will be a personal preference as to which you go for. On top of the classes you mention, all forms of exercise will give you great mental rewards so consider the not so obvious interval training sessions, bootcamp, and circuits too, as you will also feel on top of the world after a class like that.