Enjoy the Summer with Your Preemie

June 20, 2014

I dreamed of the summer I was going to have with my baby. My first child was due June 10th and we were going to relax together in the best months of the year. That dream turned into a nightmare when my water broke at 19 weeks of pregnancy.

My son was born the day after a heavy snowfall in March. We spent the next four and a half months in hospital. When we were finally released, the summer was half over. I forced myself past my disappointment and recovered some of my summer days. Sure, I was afraid of germs – my baby just had brain surgery after all! But I couldn’t be cooped up any longer. While not everyone will be able to or feel comfortable, if you’re ready to explore, here are some ways you can.

Don’t Let it Bug You

We have a generous sized garden for the suburbs. I took my son’s playpen outside and placed a mesh netting over the top. We dined in a pop-up dining gazebo with insect netting around the side. These kept the mosquitoes off my baby and the flies off our food! Dining tents with solid walls felt stuffier and with less air flow. I also used the big tent as a sun-shade for sitting outdoors without sunscreen, although I slathered the wee man up with sunscreen when exposing him to the sun.

The Grass May be Greener

My son didn’t like the texture of grass for the first two years. I suspect it was a side effect of the multiple heel pokes he received. If he was barefoot, he’d seek the nearest blanket. I helped him desensitize by giving him longer, thicker blades to hold and explore (monitoring that he didn’t put it in his mouth!) and encouraging to put bare feet on the grass for short periods of time. Eventually, his desire to be a busy boy and walk won over the icky prickly of the grass.

Please Don’t Touch the Baby

In public, I was vigilant about the well meaning members of the public who wanted to touch my cutie-pie. I rehearsed my phrase “Please don’t touch my baby, he just came out of hospital and I don’t want him to get sick” so I didn’t stumble on it when I needed it. Most times, it worked and people understood. Often they’d ask questions about his premature birth with interest. I also traveled with disinfectant wipes and cleansed every surface that he might touch, like high chairs. Eventually, my son was more germy than the places we took him, so this habit weaned itself.

Summer: What Better Time to Let ‘Em Loose?

Torran and friends camping when he was 1 year old corrected.

Torran and friends camping when he was 1 year old corrected.

I love the flexibility that warmer months provide for helping children explore their environment and learn new developmental skills. I found it easier to clean up after my messy feeding baby when I was outside (lots of hand to mouth feeding!). A small inflatable pool is great for any location, garden, balcony or camping. Yes, I braved camping when my son was a year old. The small pool let him learn about his senses, especially texture and temperature. And how fun is splashing?! We loved taking walks in the neighbourhood or downtown. Load up the stroller with snacks, water and wipes and away you go! Taking him out and about was so energizing for us. When the humidity became too high, we took our walks inside an air conditioned shopping mall.

What of the Medically Sensitive Baby?

A friend of mine took home twins, one of whom had reflux and required oxygen for several weeks. She found it very difficult to manage trips outdoors with her boys and her older daughter. That summer she felt isolated and incredibly stressed. We spoke on the phone quite often, and found comfort and support in each other’s company. Sometimes, this is all a parent can do – seek the comfort of families with similar experiences. However, she agreed that even short trips to a local park would have made her summer more enjoyable, had she had enough support to manage it. If a baby is too medically fragile to travel, parents still need to give themselves permission to recharge, even if it’s only for an hour or two.

My son was two months old when he had his second brain surgery. Besides daily therapies and weekly medical appointments, he didn’t do much but eat, sleep and poop that last month of the summer. I created opportunities for us to enjoy the weather and have “low risk” visits with friends – we always asked about colds and stomach bugs before we went anywhere or had people over. I firmly believe that early exposure to the lifestyle we wanted to have as a family helped him adjust through the multiple medical issues he has today. I wish the same for your baby.