What NOT to say to a preemie parent

OnlyTrueNorthAsha, NICU, Preemie parenting18 Comments

When I first sat down to write this post, I planned to write a concise list of things you should NOT say to the parents of a preemie. That would certainly be a heated topic and one that I can greatly relate to, but seriously…it isn’t about what shouldn’t be said. People are people and they will always say awkward things. Sometimes words just spill out. Sometimes we try and fill the silence with something just because the quiet makes us nervous.

I myself have said so many things that were well intended but that came across totally wrong. The point is, having a preemie is like walking through your own personal earthquake. It shakes your family to the core and, honestly, unthoughtful comments are really difficult to hear. They hurt. They sting and they make you want to cry. That is why I wanted to write this: so others might be aware that well-meaning words can cause a great deal of pain. The following comments were all said to myself or my husband when our baby was in the NICU. I didn’t respond with these answers, but this is certainly how I felt.


You are so lucky that you didn’t have to be pregnant for nine months and gain all that weight!

Ask any preemie mother out there, and I am sure she would tell you, that she would trade the ventilator, the needle pokes, the feeding tubes, the surgeries, and any other complications that accompany having a preemie, all for a nice ring of chub. Swollen ankles and a sore hind end? Bring it on!

When is your baby coming home?

Really? Are you honestly asking me that? Okay, so if we knew the answer to this one, I am pretty sure the date would be not only tattooed to our foreheads but also monogrammed on every single piece of clothing  in the closet!

At least you can sleep through the night and recover from surgery; once the baby comes home you will have your hands full!

Right, okay. Our baby is living in an INTENSIVE CARE unit for babies and you actually think we can sleep well? Interesting. Also, there is of course the all-night pumping extravaganza—that really lends itself to rest. Oh, what I would have done to have my hands FULL with a warm little newborn body instead of empty for so long—just waiting for her homecoming.


Your baby is so tiny!

I realize that this may seem like a harmless statement, but this one hurts. Yeah – a baby born early is small. Pointing out the obvious doesn’t necessarily encourage a parent that is praying for each and every ounce gained while in the NICU. Why not lead with something like, “What a beautiful child – a miracle and a gift,” instead?

Is your baby going to make it?

Wow. Do I even have to explain why this stings. I can barely type it without still aching a little.

With all those nurses around, you and your husband should just go out…you’ve got great babysitters.

Right… because romance is looming around every corner when your baby is in the NICU. It is easy to leave your baby hooked up to machines in the hospital and just ‘cheers’ the night away. This is so not true it is not even funny.

I know that there are other preemie parents out there that can relate. I have decided to write a recipe. Do you have some things to add? I would love to hear what made your heart soar or made your heart sting. I want to know what helped you heal and what peeled back the scabs. Let’s learn and grow together!

Here is what I’ve got so far:

A Recipe for Preemie Family Encouragement

  • hugs, hugs, and more hugs.
  • homemade meals
  • prayers
  • empathy
  • a listening ear
  • cute baby clothes
  • hand sanitzer from Costco
  • positive words of affirmation


I can’t wait to hear what you have to add!



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18 Comments on “What NOT to say to a preemie parent”

  1. Lydia

    Brilliant. One of my close friends is going through this RIGHT now. I can’t even imagine the strength it takes. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. krista

    precious, precious family. you are bringing beauty where there was pain, facing these things and helping others and it brings tears to my eyes.

  3. Nicole

    My biggest pet peeve while my 29 weeker was in NICU were the parents of full term babies whose babies spent a few days in NICU telling me they knew exactly how I felt. Nope, sorry, it’s not the same.

    Personally, I also felt gypped of being able to finish my pregnancy and deliver vaginally, but when I said that to anyone, they couldn’t possibly understand. The reply was always “you shouldn’t feel robbed, you should just be happy she is here and healthy”. Well, duh! Of COURSE I was thrilled my daughter was in the world and doing well, but I had every right to feel robbed of the full experience.

    1. OnlyTrueNorth

      Nicole, I completely understand. Sometimes I still feel twinges of sadness when I see other Mommies with big round tummies. Not because I am not happy for them, but because I grieve those last months of pregnancy still. I think it is totally normal. You are absolutely right, of course you are happy your daughter is here, but it’s okay to long for the ‘normal’ experience and feel like you lost something (because you did).

      1. Nicole

        Thank you for your reply. I think we all continue to grieve those last months of pregnancy. Hugs.

        My daughter turned a year old on 3/13 and is doing wonderfully, catching up and all that. 🙂 But the best thing that this experience has done for me is given me the opportunity to be there for other moms of preemies as a support system, a friend and someone who has been in those trenches. 🙂 I’ve connected with one mommy who was already a friend from college, and become good friends with another mommy I hadn’t known before her daughter was also born At 29 weeks. AND thanks to all the pumping, I was able to donate 500+ ounces of breast milk to mommies of preemies. 🙂

        1. OnlyTrueNorth

          That is SO awesome! I am sure you already know, but donating your breast-milk is truly a life-saving gift! I agree, it is really encouraging to be able to share our stories with others and connect with Mommies who have walked through some of the same dark places. I think that kind of community makes all the difference. My daughter just turned 2 in February, and we celebrated in a big way. Bless YOU!

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  5. Heather

    I wish I would stop being asked by family if my twins who were born early, are “going to be ok” and “are they developing well and hitting milestones”. They are 3 now and I am still asked that; like there’s some test they have to pass all the time. Best wishes on your journey with your little one.

    1. OnlyTrueNorth

      Thank you so much for sharing this with us! Asha’s little peanut just had her second birthday, so we can definitely relate to your story of working through “tests” that others seem to give us. Have a wonderful day, and come visit us again soon 🙂

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  8. Sarah utter

    i have twins in the NICU for a little over a month so far and these are all completely true. I also hate well atleast you do have to deal with being pregnant anymore and for some reason it really bothers me when people say whatever happens we’ll deal with it, they go home at night and let it go, I can’t.

    1. OnlyTrueNorth


      Thank you for sharing. I wanted to check in and see how you and your twins are doing now? Going through the NICU experience is a really challenging roller coaster. I struggled for a long time even after my daughter came home from the hospital. I’m glad that this article resonated with you. I’ll say a prayer for your family tonight!

  9. Beth

    I’m the mom of a 13 oz 24 weeker. We’ve spent 3 months in the NICU so far. I see red when I hear “I don’t think I could do that.” Or “I’m not strong enough to be a preemie parent.” I didn’t plan to be a preemie parent either but I don’t have a choice now. When you say I’m stronger than you you may think it’s a compliment but what I hear is “thank God I’m not in your shoes.”

    1. OnlyTrueNorth

      Hi Beth, oh my–I hear you. Sometimes comments, even laced with the best intentions still hurt. I think it’s always more healing to lead with kindness. To lead with comments that give life and acknowledge beauty. Praying for your baby and your heart.

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