Summer – glorious summer! I love the season, but the first time he saw it, my baby hated everything about it. Now that we’re all out of isolation, how do we make the most of this time of year?
My preemie was born in the middle of a beautiful northern summer, but with eyes fused shut and wires all around, he didn’t see a bit of it. By the time I could walk him to his hospital window, the leaves had turned and fall was upon us. Months later when we carried him out of the hospital for the first time, snow was on the ground. It would be two or three months more before the weather warmed enough for us to go for a walk.
His first exposure to our home had been one of confusion. Where were the monitor bings and the sterile smells? In the end, for the first day he’d only fall asleep in our arms, the one familiar place in the strange world outside the hospital.
A few months later I introduced him to my friend, the sun. He hated her. He was nine months old and had never really met the sun or wind. He scrunched up his eyes and tolerated the outing much as he had tolerated the nightly heel pricks in the NICU.
Despite a rough beginning, we made the most of that summer, and every summer since. He’s learned to trust the sun and wind, and after a third winter of isolation, he is absolutely giddy to be out throwing sand. Summer is an amazing opportunity for preemies to gain new experiences and grow. Make the most of it.
Tips for making the most of summer with your preemie:
Clearly, follow all the age-appropriate advice for other young children regarding protection from sun through hats, glasses, clothing and (if old enough) sunscreen.
- Stay well. If your child has lung issues, avoid spending too much time next to smoke from a fire or other pollutants that could aggravate the lungs. Continue to be vigilant about protecting your child from germs through hand washing.
- Get OUT THERE! My son eventually learned to laugh at wind and smile at blue skies, but it took him time. Pay attention to and follow your child’s cues, but don’t stay away from these new sensory experiences.
- Get DIRTY! I am not contradicting myself. I don’t mean stop using the hand sanitizer or sterilizing the pacifier, but now that you’re out of the house, let your children experience the world. Put them in sand. They might not tolerate that at first, so put them on a blanket in the sand – and then slowly get them used to the texture of the actual sand, but give them this exposure. (They will probably prefer this beach experience if they have an umbrella over their head to shade them from the sun.)
- Get WET. Put a shallow pie tin of water out on the porch for your child to slap at with your supervision. Let them watch the way the water reflects the sun. Introduce them to a kiddy pool, get their feet wet at the beach.
- Get EXPLORING. Touch the grass, pulling it up by its weeds, look at rocks together and leaves. Pet the neighbor’s dog, go to a park, sit on a wooden bench, sit on the porch on a rainy night, maybe even poke at a worm. Let your child interact with the world and the amazing things in it. If they’re unable to explore on their own because of limited mobility, bring the amazing outdoors to them. Show them sticks or leaves, flowers and rocks. Dip a rock into water and talk about what happens. Become little scientists.
- Get MESSY. Put your babies in a bumbo chair on the ground or in a high chair on your porch for easy clean up, then pour some purees on their tray for them to explore. If they are like my son, they won’t touch the purees for long, and they definitely won’t try to eat them – but exposing them to these textures and smells will make feeding them purees easier later on down the road. And what better time to try this than in the summer when clean-up is made easy?
Why? Summer lends itself to amazing possibilities to engage in sensory experiences. If your children have been sheltered as long as my son was, they’ll need this stimulation more than ever. Learning to trust different textures is key to understanding the world around you, as well as a huge part of becoming a good eater. My son still struggles with the textures that he experienced the least in those early years. I wish I’d filled his world with more slime and funny textures as an infant. Yes, you have to follow their cues, yes they CAN be overwhelmed, but little bits of new experiences each day will pave the way for success down the road. And, if your child was as early as mine, you’re likely looking at another season or two of isolation, so make the best of the warm summer months!
What have you done this summer to celebrate and explore with your preemie? How’d it go? Share your comments below.
P.S. One last piece of advice. Now that you’re out-and-about more, you’ll hear the dreaded question nearly everywhere you go. You know the one: “How old is your baby?” If your baby doesn’t look or act his or her age — as many preemies don’t — this can be awkward. Smile, nod, share just as much as you want to share, and then make a point not to compare. It’s too easy to look at other kids and try to fit your child into their mold. Don’t do it. DO, however, have a blast this summer. Enjoy the sun. After all that time in the hospital, you’ve earned it.