If your baby decides to rock up early it’ll throw all of your carefully-made plans into disarray.
Behind every good man is a good back-up plan. So while you’re obviously hoping everything goes to Plan A (into labour on due date, quick trip to hospital, baby pops out and back home for breakfast the next morning) there’s a very good reason to get Plan B finalised while you have the time.
Take it from a guy whose Plan A failed. Your Plan A? It’s probably unrealistic too.
Our first child, Ted, arrived a little earlier than expected (seven weeks early), and since then we’ve had a second, who generously managed to hang on just one week more than the first. She also decided to begin her arrival as I’d pulled up outside work, a three-hour drive away. Thanks Ella.
When Ted arrived early he robbed us of the best part of two months that we (I) had slated for some of the more practical elements of pre-baby prep – cots, car seats etc.
That stuff’s easy to solve though – especially since if a baby arrives that early they’re in hospital for a decent chunk of time.
What no-one tells you about is the other stuff. The emotional impact of a baby arriving early, and other practical things that will change should your baking sprog decide their current home is getting a bit too cramped.
So, think of this as your 6-step pre-birth safety briefing, brought to you by someone who’s been through it. Twice.
After all, no one wants the plane to go down, but it’s good to know you have a whistle, just in case.
Step 1: Get the practical purchases sorted
Easy one to start with, but don’t put it off. By the six-month mark, get the bassinet home, car seat installed, bottles and steriliser bought, clothes washed and dried, change table set up and cot ordered.
Yes, you have time to do it if baby stays in, but if baby comes early and suddenly you’re rushing between home, hospital and work for weeks it’s an extra pain in the arse to get this stuff organised too.
Step 2: Visit the public hospital labour ward
If your partner is planning to deliver at a large public hospital’s delivery unit then you’re covered here – just take the tour offered to you. Public hospitals tend to be the ones with neonatal intensive care units, so if your baby does come early, you’ll probably go there anyway.
If you’re not going to a public hospital, this is important.
Whatever plans you have for the big day will disappear if your baby decides to make an early appearance. No home birth, no water birth, no birthing centre. You’ll most likely be in the standard delivery unit at a public hospital.
So, make sure you know what will happen. Just as you’ll scope out the surroundings for Plan A, familiarise yourself with where Plan B will take place too.
This will also be useful if you carry to term but end up with a complicated delivery – they’re going to whisk you right out of the dim lighting and soothing music of the birth centre, and onto that strip-lit public labour ward of screaming, wailing, labouring mums-to-be.
If you’re going private, get onto your OB about what will happen if baby comes early. Would they deliver a premature baby at the private hospital, or would you have to go to the public hospital and deliver as a private patient so you’re closer to emergency care?
Step 3: Get familiar with your nearest NICU unit
If your baby arrives weeks early it’ll spend some time in NICU – the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Ted spent three weeks there, and Ella had a two–week sentence. (We were very lucky – some babies spend months in there.)
If your partner is likely to have a complicated birth or her pregnancy is high-risk, you may be offered a tour of NICU. In the majority of cases, these units are in big public hospitals.
NICU is a heart-wrenching place. Smaller-than-usual babies in incubators, some strapped to breathing equipment and feeding tubes, some under lights for jaundice, others just hanging out while they grow. Doctors and nurses patrolling with care.
Each baby is strapped up to monitoring equipment, with alarms going off with unnerving frequency. This place is a shock to the system for parents, and if your kid arrives early it’s where they’ll live for the first few weeks of their life.
It’s where the first milestones will take place – first feed (through a tube), first nappy change (by putting your hands through the incubator’s small side doors), first cuddle (careful not to knock a wire or tube out), first bath (maybe in the sink), first meeting with grandparents (only two people allowed at a time, though).
If your baby does end up having a long spell in NICU, so will you and your partner. Especially your partner. Milk will need to be expressed and fed through tubes. ‘Cares’ (nappy change, wipe down, temperature check) need to be done every couple of hours.
While you don’t want to spend too much time dwelling on this ‘what if’, it’d be wise to at least know where the nearest NICU unit is. And, to lessen the shock, get your head around what it might be like if you end up there.
Step 4: Assemble your Plan B support team
Of course, if you have other kids in tow, NICU life makes things bloody tough. So get your Plan B crew assembled. If you have parents, brothers and sisters nearby who can have sleepovers / do childcare drop-offs / help with after school care, lucky you. You’re all set.
For the majority – us included – who don’t have a strong local family support network, this is a bit more difficult.
We were incredibly fortunate second time around that my wife’s parents agreed to come and live with us from six and a half months, just in case. With another child to juggle, NICU can make life hugely difficult.
It’ll seem over cautious, but you’ll be glad you planned ahead if it does happen.
Step 5: Have a chat with your emotional side
Emotional preparation usually revolves around how you’ll feel after baby arrives, being responsible for another human (who doesn’t sleep much).
However, if your baby comes early, there’ll be a fleeting first cuddle if you’re lucky; it’ll be dispatched to NICU faster than a David Warner slog hits the boundary.
The first feeds will be through a tube.
You’ll go home without your baby.
The first night my wife came home after delivering Ted was the worst. She collapsed on the floor, distraught and in tears.
Spending a small amount of time making yourself at least aware of what will happen should your baby come early will help if that time comes.
Step 6: Get packed (and buy a breast pump)
So, all I’ve got left is more practical stuff. Hospital bags packed from month six.
Breast pump – buy a breast pump.
I had a sleep-deprived dash around pretty much every chemist in Sydney’s inner west searching for a specific breast pump. It had to be that very one, and I was not going to argue. Your partner will need to express, regardless of whether baby is early or not. Don’t be a dick – just buy the bloody pump.
And that’s the safety briefing over. All you can do now is buckle in and enjoy the flight…
Sorry, there are no emergency exits on this ride.