Mistakes You Make When Talking To A Preemie Mom

Mistakes You Make When Talking To A Preemie Mom (That Make You Look Dumb)When I was taking my little ones out for a walk today, we passed a woman with a stroller.  In the stroller was a very tiny baby.  He was dressed in an adorable blue outfit, had an NG tube in his nose, and some other medical gear that I wasn’t as familiar with.  We chatted briefly and then my kids and I continued on our walk.

After our conversation, I realized that I have a unique perspective that helps me to talk with mothers of children with medical issues: I’ve been there.  I’ve survived the hospital stay, been out with a baby with special equipment, and know the feeling of being so alone.

But many just don’t know how to talk with a mom of a preemie.  When my little guy was little, I had so many conversations with strangers that went badly.   I even ended up crying after a few.  (The worst was when an acquaintance said to me, “I think that young mother was staring at your baby (who had an NG tube) because she was so happy to have a normal baby.  She’s probably never seen a baby like yours before.”  My stomach still gets in knots when I think about it.)

So, I’ve decided to write about my interaction with the mom I met today to give some suggestions of how to (and how not to) talk to someone who has a preemie.  Of course every parent is different, so some of these comments may not bother everyone.  Also, I’m not saying that my responses are perfect for every situation.  I’d just like to share my experience.


Mistakes You Make When Talking To A Preemie Mom (That Make You Look Dumb) - Myth Busting Mommy

Our Conversation, Part 1


I see the mother pushing the stroller of the little guy.  They are just off of the sidewalk on the left, and she’s pushing him back and forth like she’s trying to get him to sleep.  I see that she looks stressed and that he looks tiny.  The equiptment tells me that he may have some medical issues.


Mistakes People Make 

1.  Go close to or touch the baby.  Preemies are especially susceptible to germs.  You may not even feel sick, but the germs on you could send the baby to the hospital.  Sometimes preemies can’t get vaccinations on schedule, so they are particularly vulnerable.  So keep your distance.

2.  Start the conversation by saying, “What’s wrong with him?” or “Why is he so small?”  You would think that this wouldn’t need to be said, but these things were said to me WAY too many times to count.  Once I got upset about the same stupid questions (it was a stressful day) and I was accused of being too sensitive when someone was just “curious” about my baby.  When you ask in this way, it doesn’t sound like you’re being curious.  It is intrusive and, frankly, rude.

A Better Option

I made sure that my kids and I were a few feet away (kept our distance), looked at him adoringly and said, “Looks like you have a new little one there!  He’s so cute!”  (Focus on the positives, not on the differences.)

Our Conversation, Part 2


She said thank you and explained that he had been six weeks premature and that his due date is tomorrow.  “He’s only 6 pounds,” she said, clearly trying to explain why he looks so tiny.

(This may seem like a lot of information to tell a stranger, but when you get the “Why is he so small?” questions often, you just explain automatically.  Even now that my little guy is starting to catch up in size a bit, I still find myself automatically explaining that he was a preemie and small for his age when someone asks how old he is.)


Mistakes People Make

1.  Be awkward.  Often people don’t know what to say when a parent tells them that the baby was premature or describes any conditions or medical equipment he may have.  But if you just nod and walk away, everyone feels awkward.

2.  Say, “He was premature and he’s only 6 weeks old?  Why is he outside?!?”  The unwanted advice comes from everywhere when you have a preemie.  But let me tell you, that parent knows so much more about her baby and his condition than you could even imagine.  She has specialists on speed-dial and instructions out the wazoo to follow to keep him healthy and safe.  Believe me, she knows what she is doing.  She doesn’t need your advice unless she asks for it.  (And who would ask a stranger for advice?)


A Better Option

I said, “His due date is tomorrow and he’s home already?  That’s wonderful!”  (Often the goal, unless there are complications, are to get the baby home by his or her due date.)

Our Conversation, Part 3


Then I oohed and ahhed over how cute he was.   (He was pretty darn adorable!)  And the mom went on about how difficult it is to have a child in the hospital for an extended period of time and talked a bit about his medical issues.


Mistakes People Make

1.  Say, “Well, don’t worry.  He’ll be fine.”  I think that people say this when they don’t know what else to say, but it’s insulting.  Parents of preemies have seen and been through things that you couldn’t imagine.  They know that things can get precarious in a moment.  And to say “He’ll be fine” is dismissing all of the hard work that the parents are doing every moment of every day to keep him as healthy and happy as possible.  There is worry and work to make him “fine”.  He won’t get there through good thoughts alone.

2.  Say, “Yeah, I was in the hospital for a week once for an infection.  I know what you mean.  It sucks.”  Um, no.  No, you don’t.  Now walk away before I hit you with the overweight diaper bag on my shoulder.


A Better Option

I said, “Well, he looks like he’s doing well today.  You must be doing a really great job.”

Moms of preemies are exhausted, scared, and stressed.  In the short term, they worry that they’ll miss a specialist appointment or mix up medications.  In the long term, they worry what the future holds for their child.  They endure stares and comments when they take their baby out.  It’s a near-impossible experience, emotionally and physically.  So be nice.

And maybe even go beyond just “nice” and tell them that they must be doing something right.  And say it sincerely.  Because there are many days when moms of preemies feel guilty or overwhelmed or just plain sad.  Sometimes it’s nice to hear that someone sees and appreciates all that you’re doing.

When I told the mom that she must be doing a great job, she lit up.  “We made it out of the hospital,” she said, clearly proud of herself and her son.

As we said our goodbyes, I could see that she was a still tired and stressed, but she was smiling.  It’s amazing what a little good conversation can do for your day when you are a mom to a preemie.


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Moms of preemies – What mistakes have you heard people say to you?


Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

15 Comments on Mistakes You Make When Talking To A Preemie Mom

  1. becca
    September 26, 2013 at 1:27 pm (1 year ago)

    People picked on Emalee (2 months premature) because her body proportions were off. She had a really big head and ppl never failed to point it out or say “don’t worry, I’m sure she will adjust or grow into it.” It really ticked me off…
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    • Amber Schultz
      September 26, 2013 at 5:37 pm (1 year ago)

      I really hated/still hate all the “don’t worry” comments. Because you are worrying, like you SHOULD be.

  2. Anonymous
    September 26, 2013 at 3:16 pm (1 year ago)

    Thank you for posting this. It was spot on. My daughter was born 13 weeks early and I encountered every one of these. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, caring for my teeny tiny baby. And dealing with other people made it worse. I’ve never felt so alone and scared and helpless as I did the first year of her life. The guilt still eats away at me. So thank you for this. It makes me feel like I am normal. Being a preemie mom took “normal” away from me for a long time.

    • Amber Schultz
      September 26, 2013 at 5:56 pm (1 year ago)

      First of all, hugs to you and your daughter.

      Your story really touched me. It goes to show how scary and isolating being a Preemie Mom can be. You leave the hospital with a list of specialist appointments, some equipment, and an incredibly delicate baby. It’s really more than any mom can handle without a support system that knows exactly what you’re going through. And I don’t even know if there is such a thing.

      And it’s so easy to feel guilty when you’re doing everything humanly possible to keep your baby safe and healthy. It seems the best moms always feel the guiltiest. But you made it through the first year, and that’s amazing! Congratulations!

  3. Becca @ Cheering On Charlie
    September 26, 2013 at 11:14 pm (1 year ago)

    Loved this! Another great post from you. :)

    I have to say it also really bothers me when people bring God into the mix. Such as “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.” or “Praise God for saving your baby”

    It really annoys me on so many levels that it could be a post all its own.
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    • Amber Schultz
      September 27, 2013 at 8:42 am (1 year ago)

      I couldn’t agree with you more about the God comments. I got a lot of comments relating to God when my first child was stillborn too. “This is what God wanted” or “God wanted your baby to be with him” did not make me feel better (as I think the comments were meant to), they just made me more upset.

      Maybe it should be a post all its own. Hmmm….

  4. Kasondra
    September 28, 2013 at 6:26 pm (1 year ago)

    I loved this! I don’t have a preemie but I have a friend who had TWO micro preemies (23/24 and 26 weeks I believe) I’ve seen a lot of her struggles and applaud you for speaking out and giving advice for those of us that just CAN’T understand.
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    • Amber Schultz
      October 1, 2013 at 3:32 pm (1 year ago)

      Wow, your friend must be quite a woman to have cared for two micro preemies. I hope they are all doing well now!

  5. Barbara
    October 1, 2013 at 6:37 am (1 year ago)

    Thanks for raising such issue, it is really very sensitive matter. One of the worst thing is that people any unwise comment from close relatives could matter a lot. When my sister given birth, a tiny sized baby, she was preemie mom, people surrounded her, commented unwisely. She broke down with cry. Few of them, consoled her.
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    • Amber Schultz
      October 1, 2013 at 3:31 pm (1 year ago)

      It is definitely more difficult if the comments come from a relative. Hope your sister and her little one are doing well!

  6. Mitzi
    December 19, 2013 at 9:11 am (1 year ago)

    The worst for me was random strangers scolding me for not supporting his head when I held him. He was actually 6 months old, 4 months corrected, and he was the size of a newborn. However, he could hold his head up perfectly fine, but still the scolding and harsh comments from strangers and even friends kept coming.

  7. Robyn
    November 4, 2014 at 3:44 pm (4 months ago)

    I think people are in general clueless. I had multiple people ask how old my 29 weekers were at various times and each time I said “7 months” or whatever, they would say “WOW they’re so big!” Yeah, they were not even ON the growth chart for their actual age. I would just try to contain my eye roll and say thanks and walk away.

  8. Sarah
    November 19, 2014 at 11:27 pm (3 months ago)

    My son is 14 mo actual, 11 mo corrected born at 24 wks. He is doing really well now, off O2, no other current issues besides his glasses. I am so tired of people acting like everything is back to normal! Like the fact that he is doing well erases everything that we have been through and that something is wrong with me if I get emotional a time or two about something in the past, emotional about our 5 mo NICU stay, or fears about if his IVH will effect him, or remembering the days he nearly died. The NICU stay changes you and there is a lot of hurt, fears and pain from going through something so traumatic. Those things don’t just disappear when your baby hits milestones. And there is nothing wrong with you to have this grief. I hate it when people ask if I have gotten professional help. None of their business!! And when your child almost dies it is normal for you to be emotional at times even a year later.

  9. Alana | Rockstar Preemies
    January 9, 2015 at 6:45 pm (2 months ago)

    This is so, so, so, true! I’ve heard all this stuff as a mom of 25 weeker twins, and it hurts, even if it’s probably well-intentioned. My biggest gripe now that my kids are toddlers is when people feel entitled to say something about how they can tell my daughter is a preemie because of the way she looks. It seems like they’re trying to be clever, or to let me know that they know about preemies, but all it sounds like to me is “there’s something wrong with your kid”. My amazing girl, who’s overcome so much!!! There is no easier way to make me hate you than making a comment like that.
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  10. Javier
    January 27, 2015 at 10:06 pm (1 month ago)

    My wife and I had 24 weeks + 3 days baby girl twins. Some of the worst comments were: “They look like Mexican dolls” – due to the strong pink color of their skin because of the UV light they needed to help with the bilirubin.
    “They look like newborn birds fallen from the nest” – Seriously, c’mon! Sometimes people can’t keep their own thoughts for themselves.
    One Huge advise for the relatives and friends of the parents of a preemie: NEVER comment again in front of them how the baby looked like when in the NICU. We parents remember how they did look and all the tubes and machinery they had connected, no need for more reminders.

    Thankfully, my baby girls are now at home but it was a loooong journey of 107 days in the NICU.


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