Looking back- preterm birth and special care

Going into labour early (preterm or premature labour) is worrying and stressful. Mothers who had preterm births were shocked and understandably anxious about the baby's health, especially if the baby was very early.

A threatened early labour could also be frightening - one mother who had a bleed at thirty weeks was worried about the baby but also worried about the effect of the steroids she took to help the baby's lungs develop and felt she had not really made an informed choice.

Most preterm babies will need at least some time in a special care baby unit or neonatal intensive care, and this may mean the woman has to transfer to another hospital during early labour. Being moved to a hospital with less specialised intensive care facilities upset one couple - but no places were available locally. The two hospitals seemed to have different policies about the drugs prescribed to try to stop the labour, which worried them.

As with any birth, empathy and support from staff made a big difference. A French woman who was very anxious about labour had planned to go home to France for the birth, but went into labour at 34 weeks. The midwives and doctors helped her feel relaxed and confident.

In contrast, another couple whose first baby was born at 33 weeks felt unsupported at one stage. As they pointed out, women who have a preterm birth have often not had time to attend any antenatal classes or think about birth choices, so they very much need advice and continuous support.

After birth, parents knew their baby had to be taken to special care, but it was still upsetting to be parted. Some women found it difficult to feel close to the baby at first, although others bonded straight away. The caring attitude and technical expertise of staff in special care units was greatly valued.

Mothers who lived close enough to the hospital could go home at night, although it was always difficult to leave the baby behind. The woman who had been transferred to a hospital some miles from home decided to stay with the baby, but she felt in limbo waiting for normal life to start again. After five weeks they discovered the only reason the baby was being kept in special care was to establish breastfeeding, which preterm babies may find difficult. They decided to change to bottle feeding and go home.

A mother of twins was upset to discover her babies were in special care only because the wards were short-staffed and could not manage a mother with twins. Seeing other mothers with their babies while hers were in special care brought back painful memories of having a termination for a genetic condition (see 'When something is wrong with the baby').

Some women are at risk of having another preterm birth in future pregnancies. One mother was monitored closely in her next pregnancy and had a stitch put in her cervix to reduce the chances that it would start to open too early. After a car accident at 23 weeks, she was advised to spend several weeks in hospital, although towards the end she was allowed home for a few nights. The pregnancy lasted successfully till 37 weeks and the baby was fine.

For further links see our pregnancy resources.

Last reviewed May 2017.
Last updated August 2012. 


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