Postnatal Grief: A Normal Part of Premature Birth

In this post, we want to address mothers and the grief they sometimes feel following the birth of a premature baby.

First and foremost, what most of us would consider ‘negative’ emotions are a normal part of the postnatal experience. Even mothers who give birth to full-term and completely healthy babies are prone to feeling an emotional let-down for weeks after the birthing experience. Mothers of premature babies can experience the same let down along with an added measure of grief related to the premature experience.

How common is postnatal grief among mothers of premature babies? According to the 2017 Life after Neonatal Care report from The Smallest Things charity:

  • more than one-third of mothers feel isolated following neonatal care; and
  • some 63% of mothers experience anxiety after discharge.

While neither statistic addresses postnatal grief directly, isolation and anxiety are part and parcel with experiencing postnatal grief. Feelings of grief can also be linked to:

  • loss of a ‘normal’ birthing process
  • the inability to care for baby at home
  • the pain of watching baby struggle
  • feelings of going through an ‘unfair’ experience.

Working through Postnatal Grief

Now that you know postnatal grief is normal among mothers of premature babies, the next thing you need to know is that mum can work through it over time. Any and all negative emotions a mother might experience do not have to go on to dominate the rest of her life.

A good place to start is by talking out those feelings. Mums can and should talk with their spouses or partners. They can also talk to their parents or even close friends. Hospital staff might be able to lend a listening ear from time to time, but they will not be able to devote a lot of energy to listening, as they are tasked with caring for baby.

If talking with family members and friends is not enough, professional support is available through counsellors and psychologists. Of course, parents of premature baby should reach out to a local support group as well. The benefits of participating in a support group extend well beyond the first few weeks of baby’s life, by the way. Parents can participate in a support group for as long as they feel it necessary.

Mothers of premature babies should also make a point of staying in close contact with family and friends even after talking out those negative emotions is finished. They can work on learning relaxation techniques, and they should make the time for some regular exercise as well. All these things can help reduce stress and refocus a mother’s thoughts.

Lastly, mums should not let caring for a premature baby rob them of all time spent with other children. While caring for a premature baby is time-consuming, the baby’s siblings need their mother as well. And guess what? Mum needs them, too. Spending quality time with the other children in the family can help relieve a lot of the stress.

Postnatal grief is a normal part of premature birth. If you are struggling with that grief yourself, now is the time to reach out for some help. Find someone with whom you can talk about all the things you are struggling with. Find someone who can help you work through your grief.