How to Cope with the Arrival of a Premature Baby

Having a premature baby is one of the most challenging experiences a parent can face. It can bring a lot of emotion and uncertainty, and it’s important to have proper support and guidance during this time. In this article, we will explore some tips on how to cope with the arrival of your preterm baby, the effects of the NICU on parents, the importance of being prepared and the various helpful resources available to you and your family as you navigate this situation.

Premature Birth

Being pregnant and preparing for the arrival of a new baby is a big event in any parent’s life. It can bring a range of emotions, from pure joy and excitement to feelings of anxiety and apprehension. So, finding out your baby is going to be born prematurely (before 37 weeks of pregnancy) may increase those feelings of anxiety.

Many premature births are unplanned and unexpected, but occasionally, parents may find out ahead of time that their baby will be born early. In some cases, pre-term labour is planned because it may be safer for you and your baby. Here are some reasons that a baby may be born prematurely:

  • Health problems (e.g., severe pre-eclampsia, placenta praevia, too much amniotic fluid, etc.)

  • Pregnant with twins or multiples (It’s more likely for twins and multiples to be born early and need neonatal care after birth)

  • Waters breaking early.

Your doctor or midwife will talk to you about the possibility of premature labour or being induced early and discuss why this might benefit you and your baby. They’ll discuss the care that you and your baby will receive before and after birth, and they’ll be there for you each step of the way.

How to Prepare Yourself if You’re Expecting a Preterm Baby

If you’ve found out that your baby will arrive into the world early and will need to spend time in the neonatal care unit, you may feel worried or scared. It’s natural to feel this way and many preemie parents share these sorts of feelings.

You may find there are some things you can do to help you prepare for a premature birth. Here are a few tips that you might find helpful during this time:

  • Find support. This is a difficult time for you and your family, so finding the right support for your mental health is important. Ask your neonatal care unit in advance for access to emotional support services; many neonatal units have support services available to parents. You can find a wide range of services and support on that are aimed at families of premature and poorly babies.

  • Stay informed. There may be a lot of information to process and sometimes it’s hard to get your head around everything during a stressful time. Asking questions and researching any conditions you, your baby or your partner may have been diagnosed with, and the treatment involved may help to prepare you for what’s to come. Your doctor and midwife can provide you with any information you need and direct you to useful resources.

  • Visit the neonatal unit. You might find it useful to visit the neonatal care unit in advance to familiarise yourself with it and get to know the neonatal team that will take care of you and your baby. Some units even offer virtual tours on their website. You can learn more about this special unit for newborns that need extra care in our article all about neonatal care and NICU.

  • Talk to other parents. Some parents may feel alone in the situation, but there are many parents who have been through the same experience. You might find it helpful or reassuring to talk to other parents who’ve had premature births or spent time in the neonatal care unit. Many parents want to share their stories in order to help other preemie parents, like these personal stories from Bliss. Social media or your neonatal unit may have useful resources or forums for you to check out, such as Bliss | Support Group for Parents of Babies Born Premature or Sick | Facebook

  • Get organised. You and your partner might find it helpful to get physically organised before your baby arrives. This may take any pressure off and give you more time to spend with your little one after birth. You could consider packing your hospital bag, organising childcare if you have other children, stocking up your kitchen cupboards or freezer with pre-prepped meals or healthy snacks, and organising any home help you may want or need.

Remember, whatever you’re feeling right now is completely natural. Reaching out to friends, family or your midwife for support during this time may help. Prepare yourself in whatever way you feel is helpful to you and ask your doctor and midwife as many questions as you need.

I felt less scared because the nurses had told me what to expect on the neonatal unit – the noises, the equipment – this alleviated some fear.

Mother of preterm baby

How to Cope Once Your Preemie is Here

If your little one has arrived and you’re feeling a rollercoaster of emotions, you’re not alone! The arrival of a premature baby and the effects of being in the NICU can have an impact on the mental health and well-being of parents. Read on to discover how you and other preemie parents may feel during this time and how to cope with all the emotions and support your mental health.

The Effects of NICU on Parents

Whilst you may be overjoyed by the arrival of your new baby, many other factors relating to premature birth may cause overwhelming feelings of distress, anxiety or confusion.

  • Anxiety is a common issue in parents of premature babies and many report feeling overwhelmed with worry, fear and helplessness over the health of their newborn while in the NICU and when caring for a preemie at home, as well as anxiety or stress over finances, family life, etc. whilst in the hospital.

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can occur any time after birth and is often linked to traumatic labour or childbirth, emergency treatment or other unplanned or unexpected experiences during birth. Partners may also experience PTSD after seeing their pregnant partner go through a traumatic birth or other difficult experiences in the NICU.

  • Postnatal depression, also known as postpartum depression, affects 1 in 10 women and can occur after giving birth or spending time in the NICU. It’s natural to feel low after giving birth, especially during difficult times, but if these feelings are persistent and last longer than two weeks, it may be postnatal depression. It can also affect partners.

  • Postpartum psychosis, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), separation anxiety or a worsening of pre-existing mental health conditions have also been linked to experiencing a premature birth.

Every day was like a rollercoaster ride. Emotions were up and down – I felt out of control at times.

Mum of preterm baby

How to Cope With These Feelings

If you recognise any of the above feelings in yourself, remember, you’re not alone and speaking out is the first step in supporting your mental health. Finding support with your mental health may also help support and form a close and loving relationship between you and your baby. Here are some ways in which to cope with any feelings of anxiety, depression or trauma after giving birth to your preemie.

  1. Stay informed. Although some premature births are unplanned, if you are expecting a premature birth or you’ve been informed of possible complications or health issues with you or your baby, you may find it helpful to gather as much information from professionals as possible. Understanding what’s happening and preparing yourself as much as possible may ease some anxiety.

  2. Talk about it. Talk to your GP, midwife, health visitor or neonatal team about how you’re feeling and look for a diagnosis if you’re worried about your feelings. They’re there to help support you and your baby in the NICU and when you’re back home. The NICU may provide you with access to a therapist, specialist support or other treatment options.

  3. Stay connected. As well as talking to professionals, reaching out to friends, family or other preemie parents for support may also help. Communicate and tell your loved ones what you need and how they can help.

  4. Get involved. Understanding your baby’s care in the NICU and working together with the neonatal team can help you be more involved and in control. The neonatal staff can tell you how you can help to deliver your baby’s care in the NICU so you can work towards forming a close and loving relationship with your little one. They will also prepare you for life at home with your preemie and help build your confidence – support is never far away.

  5. Take time out. It’s easy to forget about yourself when your little one is sick, but it’s important for you to take some time for yourself. This could be as simple as going for a coffee, watching a movie or getting a massage – anything that makes you feel good.

  6. Try to get plenty of sleep. Getting enough sleep is an important factor in improving your mood, as well as helping your recovery after birth, boosting your immune system and keeping your mind clearer. If you’re having difficulty sleeping, you could try some relaxation methods to help unwind, like meditation or a warm bath.

  7. Eat well. A healthy balanced diet and staying hydrated can help keep your energy levels up and support your health, and it’s also important if you’re breastfeeding. If you feel overwhelmed, you could ask friends or family to help you prepare some healthy meals (and freeze some for later).

  8. Get some exercise. Another way to maintain your physical and mental health is through daily exercise. Depending on the advice from your health visitor or postnatal staff, you could try some gentle exercise each day, such as walking, swimming, gentle stretches or even joining a postnatal exercise class. Getting outside for a bit of fresh air may also help clear your head.

  9. Get support. As well as finding support for your well-being, you may also need financial support. In fact, financial issues are often a cause of stress and anxiety in new parents. Talk to a member of staff in the NICU for advice and to find out what support may be available to you, or if there’s a social worker available at the hospital.

Every parent reacts differently to the arrival of a premature baby, so take your time and do what feels right for you. All feelings – big and small – are valid and seeking support can prevent your symptoms from worsening.

My mate at work had a premature baby so he gave me loads of information which helped a lot.

Father of a preterm baby

It is extremely hard when mums and babies are separated. But we try and involve them as much as possible and advocate skin-to-skin contact for prolonged periods during the day and night.

Neonatal Nurse

How The Arrival of a Premature Baby Affects a Family

With the arrival of a premature baby, it’s easy to place all the focus on the mother and baby; however, dads, partners, siblings and other close family members can also feel the strain during this period. Read on for more information on the effects of a preterm baby’s arrival and the NICU on both parents and other family members.

Dads and Non-Birthing Parents

Both parents play an important role in the care of their premature baby, but non-birthing parents can often be left on the sidelines. The mental health conditions that can affect the mother of a preterm baby may also affect the non-birthing parents and it’s common for them to feel a sense of helplessness, isolation or stress during this difficult time.

Non-birthing parents often worry for their baby and the mother’s safety, feel they have a lack of or overload of information, have difficulty expressing their feelings, or experience problems balancing daily life while baby and mother are in the hospital.

Neonatal care teams are increasing their support for non-birthing parents to help them transition into parenthood and carry out their new role, including supporting the mother of their baby. Elevating the role of fathers and non-birthing parents in the NICU by allowing them to be as involved as possible and engaged in the care of their preemie can benefit both them and their baby.

Dads and other non-birthing parents may find it helpful to prepare themselves before the birth, write any questions or reflections they have in a journal, reach out for help, ask about resources and support services, and engage themselves in their baby’s daily care. Dads and non-birthing parents are equally able to deliver their baby's daily care needs. They can also do skin-to-skin and comfort holding, or they can talk and read to their baby if they're not ready to be held.

I was given the chance to speak to other parents through a Buddy Group. It made me feel like I wasn’t alone.

Dad of preemie


If you have other children, they may feel the stress or upset of the whole experience, especially knowing their parent and baby sibling are in the hospital. Depending on the age of your other children, this may be a confusing and scary time.

Involving your children as much as possible may help reduce feelings of exclusion or confusion. If possible, they might like to visit the baby, buy them a present or draw them a picture.

It may be a stressful time for all the family but try to spend as much time with your children as possible and let them know that you’re there for them. Keep the dialogue open and try to answer any questions they have about what’s going on (prepare for a million questions!). You may even find it useful to find children’s books about premature babies or becoming a sibling.

I didn’t like my mummy not being at home and picking me up from school. My granny let me have chocolate though and I saved some for my baby brother.

Sibling of preemie, Age 8 years

Other Family Members

Grandparents or other close family members may also experience the worry and anxiety of seeing you and your new baby in the NICU. Like non-birthing parents, close family members may feel out of the loop and helpless. Try to keep them as informed as you can or ask your partner to help with updating people. Grandparents and other family members are also encouraged to reach out if they have any questions or want someone to talk to – Support | Bliss

Many family members want to help out as much as possible. If this is the case, you might ask for help with the care of your other children or pets, meal-prep, housework or just someone to chat to.

I wanted to take all the pain away…my baby had a baby that was so tiny and so fragile. I felt helpless…Why her?

Grandmother of preemie

Resources for Parents of Babies Born Premature in The UK

Here are some of the great resources and support networks available to parents of preterm babies in the UK for you to explore. You can also ask your neonatal care team or GP for local support and resources in your area.

  • Bliss supports parents of sick and premature babies. No matter what stage of the journey you’re on, Bliss provides information and support about premature birth and the effects it can have on your mental health.

  • MIND, the mental health charity. When you're living with a mental health problem, or supporting someone who is, having access to the right information is vital. Visit or contact 0300 123 3393.

  • Birth Trauma Association provides information and support to women who have had a traumatic birth and their partners.

  • Leo’s Neonatal is parent-led and provides neonatal mental health support to families in the North East of England.

  • Twins Trust provides information and support for parents of twins and multiples.


Having a baby in the NICU can be an overwhelming experience and many parents report feeling anxiety, stress, depression or trauma. Some ways to cope include:

  • Talking about it
  • Seeking support from professionals, family and friends
  • Staying informed about what’s happening with you and your baby
  • Getting involved with your baby’s care
  • Practicing self-care, e.g., taking time out, sleeping, eating a healthy diet, exercising.

The Bottom Line

Just by reading this article, you’ve taken the first step towards positive mental health and well-being for you, your premature baby and your family! It may seem like there’s a long road ahead for you or perhaps you’re out the other side already; but no matter where you are in your journey, you’re not alone – many parents have reported mental health issues after a premature birth.

Taking care of your mental health will benefit both you and your baby. So, speak out, get support, practice self-care and get involved in your preemie’s care. And remember, you and your baby are in the best hands possible, and your neonatal care team are there for you every step of the way!

Friends and families of babies born prematurely can now order their Pampers Preemie Protection Nappies online for free home delivery via Pampers also continue to donate Pampers Preemie Protection nappies direct to hospitals, and via ASDA pharmacies (in-store only and subject to availability)

How We Wrote This Article The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the National Health Service (NHS). You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.

Read more about Prematurity

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