Looking at my two-year-old baby boy now, it’s hard to believe he was once as small and helpless as he was.
After so long – 60 days in total – in the NICU, I found it so hard to believe that I could actually take him home and that he would actually be okay.
My mind was a mess.
My body was a bit of a mess too because I hadn’t been sleeping well or even thinking straight.
What if I had caused it somehow with excessive exercise or the wrong sorts of food? Before pregnancy, I had taken supplements. As recommended by all reputable supplement vendors I immediately stopped when I became pregnant, but I couldn’t stop being fearful. I’d overthink and analyse every single myth I’ve heard about supplementation during the pregnancy.
I came to believe that I made myself, in some horrible way, a bad vessel for a baby. But I was absolutely wrong about that. I hadn’t done a single bad thing, I wasn’t responsible for my baby’s condition, and the nurses at the NICU were a tremendous help when it came to making me understand that. Talking to other mothers also helped a great deal.
Once he was home, I couldn’t stop worrying. I’m a natural worrier: I couldn’t help it. I may be a nutritionist, I may know a lot about health, but what if I got something wrong? My anxieties seemed to heighten with every passing day, even with the support of my husband and family.
Luckily, I stumbled across a support website, which was an incredible help and an absolutely invaluable resource. As my baby grew, I found that abundance of help was out there and plenty of people were rooting for him and me, which was the best possible thing that could have happened to improve my mental health.
However, that didn’t mean there weren’t still obstacles to overcome. A major one was getting my son off of breastfeeding and onto the “real” food – the next big milestone in his development. I was very anxious about when he would be ready. He seemed to be ticking all the boxes that indicated he was – he could sit properly and hold up his head, plus he seemed interested in the food I was eating at the dinner table. (I wondered if this last one was wishful thinking on my part, but my husband insisted that it wasn’t.)
I did some research on the internet to learn more about the differences between preemie babies and full-term babies when it came to solid foods. Doctors say that preemies hit their developmental milestones at a “corrected” age rather than their actual age: the corrected age being their actual age minus the number of weeks they were premature.
Bearing this in mind, my son was almost six months old, and most websites said six months of age was the correct one when it came to “weaning”, I got nervous.
Tabloids are full of stories about how dangerous it is to wean your child too early, how it causes obesity and diabetes and all sorts of anxiety-inducing things. It’s very hard to sort the truth from the fibs, especially when you have a child to raise and a job to return to. Then, of course, there’s the ‘don’ts’. I compiled a list of ‘don’t’ food that you shouldn’t feed your baby:
Foods high in sugar – this can cause mood swings, irritability, and tooth decay
Foods high in salt – it’s bad for a baby’s developing kidneys
Whole nuts – definitely don’t give these to a child as they may choke on them
Fish high in mercury, like swordfish – the mercury could affect your child’s nervous system
Honey – there’s a possibility honey could cause botulism in a child, so don’t risk it
Low-fat foods – yes, they’re good for adults trying to lose weight, but babies actually need that good fat!
On the surface, that might sound like quite a fear-inducing list. However, once I had that list down, and once my baby started happily accepting the good nutrients I was feeding him, my anxieties began to melt away. It hadn’t been that hard after all.
Now don’t get me wrong, there are still some foods my 2-year-old won’t eat because he doesn’t like the taste, and of course he’s going through the terrible twos now so there are tantrums. But I remember the difficult start he had in life and the fear it caused in me, and I’m so relieved once we were able to get past it.
My advice to other preemies parents – do as much research as possible, learn the dos and don’ts, and take a deep breath. It will be okay!
Do you have any other tips to add? Share with us below.