Skip to content

If your baby arrives early or unwell

If your baby arrives early or unwellBabies who arrive before 37 weeks, have a low birth weight or have a medical condition might need extra support in the neonatal unit after they’re born.

Tommy’s has developed the ‘My Prem Baby’ app to track your journey with your premature baby. You can download the app for free from Google Play or Apple's App Store.

Feelings and anxieties

Having a premature or sick baby in a neonatal unit will have a huge impact on you. Bliss has some helpful information and support for parents’ mental wellbeing including a podcast featuring other parents’ experiences. People react differently to having a premature or unwell baby – feeling overwhelmed, anxious or depressed is common, grieving the sudden end to your pregnancy, not feeling able to celebrate your baby’s arrival as you would have hoped or perhaps feelings of guilt, even though this was out of your control.

You may have had a sudden, difficult, or sometimes traumatic labour and birth with little time to prepare for you and your baby being unwell. Speaking about how you feel is very important, you can find out more about support following a traumatic birth in our mental wellbeing section.

Some parents have found it helpful to ask someone to keep family and friends up to date as it can be exhausting and overwhelming caring for your baby. It’s ok to let people know you’re not able to respond to texts or answer phone calls. Remember it’s ok to ask for help from friends or relatives looking after other children and helping with household chores.

Being kind to yourself, getting some rest and enough to eat is important – you’ll need your strength to be there for your baby. Bliss has some information for your supporters who might not always know what to do or say at what can be a very emotional and stressful time with some advice about what to do if you’re worried about someone else’s mental health.

Looking after your baby

Being involved in your baby’s care can really help you and your baby. Bliss has some great information on family-centred care and what sort of things you can try with your baby including feeding, changing their nappy, and having time skin-to-skin. This will help you bond with your baby. Bliss also has more information on feeding your baby and you can get more support from the staff on the neonatal ward and later the Special Infant Feeding Team. 

Support from your health visitor

If your baby was born prematurely, you’ll receive ongoing support from your local Health Visiting Team including extra visits. The neonatal unit will let us know your baby has arrived and they will phone you to offer support while your baby is still in hospital. Your health visitor will be there to support you along the way, including weekly phone calls, helping prepare for your baby to go home and visiting you at home.

Your health visitor will use an age correction method so if your baby was born at 32 weeks, eight weeks will be taken away from their birth age (their corrected age) for assessments and for support with things like Introducing solid foods and immunisations. If your baby was born before 32 weeks, their age is corrected until their second birthday. If they were born after 32 weeks, their age will be corrected until their first birthday.

Leaving hospital and life at home

Preparing to leave hospital with your baby can be exciting but also daunting. Bliss has some information on how to prepare to leave with your premature or sick baby.

Premature babies will remain under a hospital paediatrician for one to two years depending on birth age. If your baby has an ongoing condition they would continue this care and access other children’s therapy services.

Making critical care decisions

One of the hardest things about having a very unwell baby is that no one can tell you exactly what’s going to happen, their condition can change rapidly and you might be asked to make decisions about their treatment very quickly. You don’t have to face this alone. Talk to the people you are closest to – your partner, family and friends as well as the medical staff who can help you make decisions.

Bereavement

Very sadly some babies are so unwell that they are not able to survive and we’re so sorry to hear of any family that has had to face this heart-breaking loss. Everyone’s circumstances are different and every experience is individual. Talking through your feelings with someone who understands can make you feel less isolated. Making Miracles is a baby trauma and family bereavement care charity who can provide professional counselling and ongoing emotional support to the whole family.

Useful resources

  • Find information and support if your baby is premature or unwell from Bliss.
  • Download Tommy’s ‘My Prem Baby’ app from Google Playor Apple's App Store.
  • Bump, Birth and Beyond has information on support from your Midwifery Team and neonatal units.
  • Making Miracles is a baby trauma and family bereavement care charity who can provide professional counselling and ongoing emotional support to the whole family.