Premature birth: Caroline’s story, 34+6 weeks

This morning Caroline shares the story of Connor’s arrival at just 34+6 weeks gestation, showing that even planned sections don’t always happen as expected! I remain in awe of how Caroline, and all the other mums who are sharing their story this week, have coped. What an incredible bunch of women you are!

Our son, Connor, was born weighing 2lb 11 1/2oz at 34+6 weeks gestation in the midst of the Swine Flu scare. It was first noticed that Connor was ‘small for gestation age’ at my 20 week scan. I was regularly monitored and towards the end of the pregnancy Connor’s growth slowed right down, now it was being called IUGR (intra uterine growth restriction). It was decided that he would be delivered at 36 weeks by caesarean section. The risk of continuing further could result in failure of the placenta.

Connor obviously decided he wasn’t going to wait until 36 weeks so he was born by emergency section at 34+6.  He came out screaming and had excellent APGAR scores of 9 + 10. The midwife commented that he was very small and I saw him briefly before he was taken to the Neonatal unit. After leaving theatre I was taken on the bed to the unit to visit him.

We probably had a different experience to most in that despite his very low birthweight for his age, his older gestation and development worked in his favour. This meant that he didn’t need any assistance with breathing, and he stayed in the incubator for 3 days only, mainly for warmth and intravenous nutrition, and a nasal feeding tube. He had only a pulse oximeter and an under mattress sensor. You can’t keep your eyes off those monitors though and the beeps are pretty scary!

He had very little medical intervention compared with other babies in the unit, although he did spend some time under the UV lamps to treat jaundice, but after that all tubes and monitoring equipment got removed.

I knew once he was born that he would be alright, but I found it difficult being placed back on the ward, all the other mums on the ward had their babies with them. I think the other mums were all scared of talking to me so I made a point of striking up conversation about their babies and telling them about mine. The neonatal staff had provided me with a few photos of Connor and I very proudly showed them off. I did spend a lot of time howling and sobbing in the bathroom and over my cereal bowl though!

His older gestation also meant that his suck reflex was developed enough to commence direct breast feeding. Breast feeding help wasn’t really available though and I think if I hadn’t have done it before I might have been pressured to give up. I certain encountered negative comments from some of the older neonatal nurses. After I was discharged from hospital one of the nurses told me about the parenting accommodation so that I could stay in hospital and continue to breast feed on demand. My hospital didn’t have transitional care, but had two parenting rooms at the unit which were mainly used for rooming in prior to discharge. As these rooms were not being used the nurse said it was fine for me to stay overnight. I was unable to express enough milk because he was feeding directly anyway. Comments such as “you’d be better in your own bed and we can feed formula overnight”, “your baby will take longer to put on weight and be here longer because you insist on breast feeding” and “you shouldn’t really be staying in overnight, these rooms are meant for parents of very ill babies” were all very hurtful and unsupportive. Although the majority of the staff were very good and I have kept in touch with some of the nurses I made friends with.

Connor was transferred to the nursery room after leaving the incubator and was now able to wear clothes, it’s amazing how different they can look in an open cot with clothes, hat and blankets! He was labelled a feeder and a grower and we stayed here for another 4 weeks. I used the accommodation for 3 weeks and built up enough expressed milk to stay at home for the last week. Initially he was give a target weight of 4lbs before he could be discharged but the consultant finally relented to let him go at 3lbs 10oz, I think she was pressured by the other nursing staff as Connor was doing so well and it was only the slow weight gain that was holding us back. I think they had also noticed my moods were getting lower and lower the longer he stayed in. luckily this didn’t lead onto post natal depression. As swine flu was at its height the unit was closed off to all visitors including siblings. Our 4 year old daughter found this difficult as everybody was telling her about her new brother but she’d not seen any evidence of him.

The neonatal community nurses came out three times after Connor’s discharge, after he reached 5 lbs we were handed over to our health visitor. I had great support from my HV and she rang me a few times when Connor was still in hospital to check on both of us. She also came out to the house to weigh him for a long time instead of me having to take him to the baby clinic.

Connor is now 3 years of age and very cheeky, he had continued to have slow growth though and has now been diagnosed with a chromosome microdelation that affects his height and weight. He will likely need growth hormone treatment from next year; he is yet to get plotted on any of the growth charts for his age. He was little late with some milestones, he finally sat unaided at 11 months, but walked at a respectable 18 months (quicker than our daughter), speech is also a bit behind but I know of plenty of full termers with speech issues too. In all other respects he is a normal, happy, healthy child.

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15 million babies are born preterm around the world every year—that’s 1 in 10. More than 1 million babies die due to complications of preterm birth and many of those who survive face a lifetime of disability. Both Tommy’s and Bliss raise funds to help both babies and families who are born prematurely and require special care.    You can find more about what they do, or make a donation, by clicking the links provided. 

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