If your baby is born prematurely (before 37 weeks) or if he is unwell when he is born, he will need to go the Special Baby Care Unit (SCBU) or the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). If your hospital hasn't got a specialised unit, your baby will be transferred to another.
The medical equipment in the SCBU may look alarming. Your baby will be lying in an incubator and he will have tubes and monitors attached – most of them designed to do one of three things:
• keep your baby warm
• help your baby breathe
• feed your baby.
It's normal to feel disoriented and very anxious. You may feel that your future plans have suddenly been turned upside down and replaced with uncertainty and confusion.
You may be shocked, even repulsed by the appearance of your baby. You may be overwhelmed by the equiment and the number of people involved - to the point where you feel this baby is nothing to do with you.
• Take each day at a time. Contact your local NCT branch to find out if there is anyone on their Special Experiences Register you can talk to.
• Keep in touch with your baby: let him hold your finger, and stroke his back and arms. Change his nappy, dress him and talk to him as much as possible.
• Express your breastmilk - it cannot be valued too highly. Ask your midwife how to express milk for your baby until he is strong enough to breastfeed.
• Ask about 'kangaroo care'. This is when the baby is placed naked against his mother's bare chest, between her breasts, and then covered up. The mother naturally alters her own skin temperature to compensate for the rises and falls in her baby's body heat. A study at Hammersmith Hospital in London, showed that babies who had even small amounts of kangaroo care put on weight more rapidly and were allowed home sooner than those being looked after in standard intensive care.
'Everything had gone wrong - Semil had been born at 33 weeks; he had all sorts of problems. I felt a complete failure. The only really good thing I could do for him was to breastfeed him. So I was absolutely determined to succeed. And I did!'