What about the families who are just bringing their precious baby home after weeks or even months spent in the NICU?
What about the preemie parents who are hyper vigilant because their child suffers from allergies or asthma?
What about the preemies with sensory issues who respond differently to the world around them?
What about the preemies who just had a life-changing surgery and are facing recovery during the coming months?
When there’s a social expectation to everything summer – picnics, barbeques, family reunions, vacations, beach trips, community festivals, etc. - how do you know when enough is, well, ENOUGH? I don’t believe caring for the needs of your premature child should have to be so hard during the summer, and that’s why I’ve created a small bucket list just for us preemie parents! Okay, maybe it’s not so much a bucket list as some guidelines to help you along the way, but hey, I just love the idea of keeping things simple and achievable .... and that in essence is a bucket list! So here’s some encouragement and goals to keeping things fun, safe and manageable for you and your preemie this summer.
- Go at your own pace! There’s no need to have to "keep up with the Joneses" when it comes to summer fun. If you can’t commit or just don’t think the activity is safe for your little one, then don’t feel guilty about having to pass on the invitation. The art of saying no is subtle – politely decline the offer or suggest another activity you feel more comfortable with. This also holds true if you have a child who is older or has a disability. Just because your child’s best friend is attending summer camp or their cousin is taking gymnastics classes doesn’t mean your child has to. Find your own stride for summer – your preemie or NICU grad’s needs (and talents even!) may be different in relation to their peers, and that’s okay.
- Dehydration. I contacted my pediatrician for this one! He said in general, it's not a good idea to give your baby water until they're about 6 months old. Until then, they will get all the hydration their little bodies need from breast milk or formula, even in hot summer weather. The only exception to this rule is if you have an infant that is ill and losing fluids - but that instruction should only come from your pediatrician. Oh, and just say no to juice, tea or soda!!! If you have a toddler (between the ages of one and three years old) they should be getting all their liquids from a combination of milk, water and fresh juices. You can also leave water accessible to them in a sippy cup where they can get at it and drink when they feel thirsty. A good way of monitoring how much they are getting is to check their urine. If it's clear or light yellow they are getting enough!
- Avoid crowds. This ties in to #1 on the bucket list and is especially important if you have a premature child that is newly home. Your baby is not only premature, but their exposure to everything around them is premature as well. You can protect them best by keeping the environment around them healthy and limiting your outings to high-traffic areas. Preemie lungs are incredibly sensitive and just because summer isn’t considered cold and flu season doesn't mean they can't come in contact with other types of viruses or bacterial infections. Sutton was only nine months (six months adjusted) when he experienced his first summer. Believe me, as much as we wanted to travel, visit museums and attend large street festivals, we just felt more comfortable being around a few family members at a time. Please keep in mind that the Synagis shot is also available to all premature children to help aid their developing immune system.
- Summer doesn’t have to mean swimming. I know, I know – but it doesn’t! I learned this the hard way last summer when my son was two years old. He went through a phase where he was terrified of the water all of a sudden. He went from being a water loving baby to absolutely terrified of the bath and pool. Knowing this was a phase and not wanting to push him, we did other activities that weren’t focused around the pool. We went to our local park that has a “splash pad” and allowed him to go at his own pace. If he wanted to splash in the water or spray himself he could, if he didn’t then there was a playground with climbing stations and swings to entertain him. Within a few weeks he was back in the water (with floaties and constant supervision) and by summer’s end he was much more at ease. We’ll be following up with swimming lessons this summer to hopefully build on the confidence he gained last summer. If your little one is afraid of the water or has sensory issues that make pool time overwhelming, let them play with the hose and help you garden, run or crawl through the sprinkler, play with a water table or just wade their feet or sit on the steps of the pool and cool off. Believe me, summer does not have to be synonymous with swimming - just be creative!
- Traveling with little ones is tough – every parent knows that. But if your preemie came home on oxygen, is on medication, has a feeding tube or has to do daily breathing treatments, then vacationing can be that much more overwhelming. Making a “things to pack” list with everything you may need before you hit the road can be incredibly helpful because you can just check the list off as you pack! If you’re visiting a theme park this summer and your child has food allergies, diabetes or is on a special diet, be prepared to pack food items and cool packs for long days out and about. And my number one paranoid preemie momma tip? Know the local hospitals that are closest to you when visiting a new area. Although many popular theme parks have first aid stations, they do not have on-site hospitals for major emergencies. Just prepare yourself as best you can and enjoy your vacay!