Challenges of raising a premature baby (preemie) – NICU to one-year

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Last Updated: Sep 23, 2020

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In this article, I would like to share some of the challenges of raising a premature baby (preemie) as we experienced them with our little boy. I hope that it may help other parents who have a premature baby to worry a little less.

Lucas was born prematurely nine months ago at Northside Hospital at only 30 weeks and six days gestational age. He had to stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), or Special Care Nursery (SCN) as Northside calls it, for almost two months.

Challenges of raising a premature baby

Being a first-time parent is tough. Everything is new, and you do many things for the first time. We read a lot of books, but theory and practice are often two very different animals. But we felt pretty confident when Kathy was pregnant with Lucas that many things would be easier this time around. We had learned a lot with Isabella, our first kid and pledged not to make common mistakes again. Overall, we were more relaxed and felt nothing could rock our world.

He came in like a wrecking ball

Ok, that may be a harsh statement, and it’s not entirely accurate, but the change that Lucas’ premature birth brought, did feel like a wrecking ball coming through our living room while we were watching TV and eating popcorn. The change just came so unexpectedly. Not that he destroyed anything, except our routine and I don’t consider that a bad thing, but he certainly redecorated the room. Figuratively speaking.

Nothing is easier with the second baby

If you have kids, I’m sure you remember that moment when you came home from the hospital after having delivered your first baby. That feeling of “where the heck is the nurse?” and “what am I supposed to do with the baby now?”.

At first, the NICU feels like a scary place, with all the monitors, cables and nurses running around. But after a few days, it gave us a piece of mind. Because at any given time, we knew that Lucas was breathing and his heart was beating – thanks to all those monitors. Sometimes, his heart rate and blood oxygen levels would drop (or desaturate), but within seconds a nurse was at his bedside, making sure that he was OK.

Vital signs

All that safety net disappeared when we took Lucas home on February 24th, 2016. At home, we had no equipment to watch his heart rate, breathing rate or blood oxygen levels. It took a couple of days to suppress the urge of wanting to check his vital signs regularly. But we got over it by remembering that they wouldn’t have let us go home if he wasn’t ready to.

Immune system

Babies build their immune system in utero during the last few weeks of pregnancy. Additionally, a lot of good bacteria is transferred from mother to newborn during natural birth. Lucas didn’t get any of that. That’s why he got probiotic supplements during his stay in the NICU. He also had Kathy’s breast milk throughout his stay in the NICU, which also helped him build an immune system. Nevertheless, we assumed that his immune system would be weaker than that of a term baby.

Challenges of raising a premature baby - NICU to one year
Kathy donated a lot of her breastmilk

As a result, we were extra cautious during the first few months of his life. The sanitizer industry may have felt a bump in sales during that time. At some point, we gave up on our mild case of germophobia. By now, Lucas has probably licked every inch of the floor in our house. Interestingly enough, he has never been sick, except for a runny nose while we were traveling to Europe.

Weight gain

Lucas was born at 2 pounds 3 ounces (or 992 grams), and as a result, weight gain was an area of concern from day one. To this day, his weight is hovering around the 1–3 percentile, but his weight gain is consistent and age-appropriate. Our pediatrician isn’t concerned, but we surely wouldn’t mind if he caught up to his peers sooner than later.

Challenges of raising a premature baby - NICU to one year
The constant battle for weight gain

Some things are easier with Lucas

Besides all the scary stuff that a premature baby makes you deal with, I have to say that Lucas has been an easy baby. I would even go as far as saying that he is easier going than Isabella was. And she was an easy baby, as relatives and friends like to remind us of on occasion.

Milestones and corrected age

Because Lucas was born two months early, his biological age doesn’t often reflect his developmental age. That means, if babies typically learn how to roll over from tummy to back at as early as four months, it would take Lucas at least six months (from his birthday). In other words, just because Lucas was born two months early, doesn’t mean that he can achieve milestones two months earlier than term babies.

That’s why, when someone asks how old Lucas is, the answer isn’t as simple as most would expect. Right now, Lucas is nine months old (biologically), but he looks and acts like a seven-month-old. Hence, he is seven months corrected (for his premature birth).

Challenges of raising a premature baby - NICU to one year
Days before he learned how to turn from back to belly

Odd enough, Lucas didn’t seem to have gotten that memo, as he started rolling tummy to back and back to tummy when he was only three months old (corrected). He also started crawling (commando-style) when he was six months old (corrected) and his sleeping patterns aligned early with those of his peers of the same biological age.

Sleep routine

We sleep-trained Isabella for months and “cry it out” was a well-known term in this household. Lucas, however, decided to take it easy on us. He slept without any training and never caused any issues for naps and bedtime. Around five months of age (corrected) he started sleeping through the night (at least 11-hour stretches).

Other Curiosities

Lucas decided that he was done with pacifiers when he turned three months (corrected). He just wouldn’t take it anymore. At the same time, Lucas hated car seats and would cry pretty much every time we put him into one. It took him a couple of months before he would be comfortable in a car seat.

Lucas at one year (corrected)

Lucas is a happy baby, who has developed age-appropriately and in some cases, he was even ahead of his peers. So far, he doesn’t have any medical issues, and you can’t tell that he was born two months early. To me, that’s a sign that he was already healthy in utero and the great medical team at Northside Hospital made sure it stayed that way until he was born.

Photos of Lucas

NICU to seven months (corrected)

Lucas at 11 months (corrected)

As we did with Isabella, Lucas’ older sister, we went to our favorite newborn photographer, Eva Sulima, for a photo shoot with him. Click on any photo below to view it bigger or to leave a comment!

As you can probably tell by the photos, Lucas is feisty and has always been. Just as the nurses who took take of him in the NICU. He truly is a wild one, and I wonder where he got that from :)

We have had a smooth ride with Lucas so far, thanks to an incredible support system consisting of our family, friends, Northside Hospital and all its affiliates as well as our pediatrician Dr. Mike Papciak and his team. One support element that we were fortunate enough not to have needed is Miracle Babies. I’ll dedicate a future article on the important work they are doing by financially supporting families who have babies in the NICU.

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