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Before birth

Being told your pregnancy is high-risk, your unborn baby is ill or you’re likely to give birth early is frightening news. You might feel guilty, as if your body is failing to do its job, and you might also feel helpless because there’s little you can do. But by visiting this website you have already taken the first step to preparing yourself, as much as possible, for what lies ahead.

The causes of preterm birth (before 37 weeks) are not well understood and there are many different reasons for babies arriving early, including multiple pregnancies, pre-eclampsia and poor growth in the womb. If your waters break early the doctors will probably give you two sets of drugs – one to delay labour and the other to help your baby’s lungs to mature.


Preparing yourself
Finding out what might happen can make you feel like you’ve regained a tiny bit of control over your situation. Prepare yourself by:

  • Asking your doctor questions (take notes to help you remember later).
  • Researching conditions your doctor mentions – but only from reliable sources such as this website and nhs.uk
  • Asking if you can look around a neonatal unit. Entering a NICU for the first time can be intimidating. You can also take a tour online.
  • Talking to someone who has had a premature baby. The Bliss Netmums messageboard is a great place to connect with other parents who have been through similar experiences.
  • Looking at other sections of this website, but take your time and don’t get overwhelmed by reading everything at once.

Take care of practical considerations earlier than usual so you are ready: pack your hospital bag; plan your route to the hospital; find out about parking; arrange childcare if necessary; and have all the contact numbers you need to hand.

If your baby comes early they might need to be fed through a tube at first. Breast milk is especially important for premature and sick babies. 

Expressing milk by hand and machine are techniques you can read up on now in preparation.


Looking after yourself
Managing your weight by eating healthily and staying active can reduce your risk of developing complications that could lead to your baby being born prematurely. Stay well – and help your baby to develop and grow – by eating plenty of:

  • Fruit and vegetables – at least five portions a day.
  • Starchy foods (carbohydrates) such as bread, potatoes and pasta.
  • Meat, poultry and eggs for protein, but make sure everything is cooked through.
  • Fish – try to eat two portions a week, one of which should be oily fish such as salmon, sardines or mackerel.

Foods to avoid include liver, pâte, soft cheeses with white rinds, soft blue cheeses and raw or undercooked meat and eggs.

Unless your doctor has told you otherwise, do something active every day. This doesn’t have to be an organised exercise class – walking counts too!

Smoking, drinking alcohol and taking drugs have all been linked with premature labour so you should give up now if you haven’t already. Giving up alcohol completely is safest but if not, limit your intake to one or two units (a small glass of wine) once or twice a week. 

Looking after your mental health is crucial. Try to cut out some daily stress by accepting offers of help from friends and family, whether it’s doing the housework or looking after other children. Shop for groceries online and consider getting a cleaner or paying for extra childcare if you can afford it. Try to do something you enjoy at least once a week.

If you would like to speak to someone or for further information please call the Bliss helpline.