True story: My child weighed just 850g, born prematurely at 26 weeks - and is a healthy teen now

From the initial shock of giving birth prematurely to the feeling of helpless when your tiny baby is fighting for her life in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), these are memories that parents of a preterm baby are unlikely to forget.

Then, even as their baby is discharged from hospital, they continue to worry if she would be alright.

Mummy Shubhada Bhide would know this too well. Her firstborn Eeshaa weighed just 850g, born prematurely at 26 weeks of gestation.

Shub, who shares about her family life on Instagram (@shub_sg) and blogs at RainbowDiaries, tells Young Parents: "The echoes of this experience continued in our heads and minds for at least five to six years for me. Even now, sometimes I get panicky when it is clearly not needed."

But 12 to 13 years today, Eeshaa is a healthy teen with big dreams, a student leader in her school, and a proud sister of seven-year-old Shrihaan who is a full-term baby.

Here, she assures parents who have a premature baby too that "you can breeze through the initial and most crucial part of raising a preterm baby".

This is her story:

"Eeshaa is a preterm baby born weighing 850g at 26 weeks of gestation - simply put, she was born three months too early. After birth, just like other babies, her weight dropped further to 768g!

"Paediatricians had a super difficult job to ensure that her organs developed properly, that she gained adequate weight and performed basic tasks such as drinking milk with mouth, passing urine and getting regular stools.

"She had a 'staycation' in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for 2.5 months before doctors discharged her. Each day was a new experience and new lesson for parents and grandparents who used to take turns to be at the hospital.

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"When she was in NICU, as parents, we faced traumatic time. Each day presented new challenges and that made us so worried.

"Being born as a very tiny preemie did have its effect on Eeshaa for first one to 1.5 years when milestones got delayed or skipped. But after that, she was more or less like any other average child.

"She is still quite thin, but her height, intelligence and other growth parameters are comparable to her age group.

"Looking back, I realised I need not have been overly worried about during her early childhood years. These are what I wished I knew about - and would share these pieces of advice with other parents who have a premature baby, too.

READ UP WHEN YOU'RE PREGNANT

"No one really wants their kid to be a preterm baby, but it's always advisable to read up more about this topic during pregnancy and to ask all the necessary questions to your gynae. So, in an event of preterm birth, you are mentally prepared. We were caught completely unaware and had no idea how to care for a preterm.

DON'T COMPARE THEIR NEEDS WITH FULL-TERM BABIES

"When it comes to preterm kids, you need to be equipped with even more medical information.

Their food and nutrition needs vary compared to the full-term babies.

Also, the quantity of milk or formula milk they drink is lesser. They need to be fed on time and need to be monitored very stringently. Again, we were not at all ready for this.

YOUR PREMATURE BABY WILL CATCH UP

"Normal growth charts of weight and height are not applicable for preterm babies. In the initial period, I used to be very stressed about her weight. I wished I knew about the concept of "catch-up growth". Preterm babies gain weight and height a bit late and remain below the average for the first few years.

"Physical milestones for preterm kids is another area we had no knowledge of.

We expected Eeshaa to roll over by four months of age and she didn't do that. We simply didn't take into consideration her corrected age.

We met the paediatrician and realised that we can't expect too much, too early. Eeshaa caught up all milestones and became almost like an average child around one year old.

Still a bit tiny and lightweight, but she was walking, talking and showing all the antics of a one-year old!

"Another thing that used to scare me a lot is mental development. Preterm kids are just like other kids when it comes to academics.

It's just that their learning curve might be a bit steep. So, this month, they appear to know nothing about the topic and next month suddenly, they seem to be an expert. So, we just have to give them more time in case needed.

HAVE CONFIDENCE IN YOUR PARENTING SKILLS

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"I wished I had not been so paranoid about everything when it came to my preterm baby.

One sneeze or one cough used to put me on tenterhooks and I really missed enjoying the infant years.

"The most valuable lesson we learnt: Do not compare your child with other kids. Peer pressure and their remarks about Eeshaa's weight, food intake etc. disturbed us to a great extent. We always doubted about our parenting skills and about our ability of taking good care of the baby.

"Time changes everything! Monitor your kid's mental and physical development, take guidance from the paediatrician, follow your parental instincts and take support from your family members.

"Then you can breeze through the initial and most crucial part of raising a preterm baby. You will be amazed with the joy this tiny little being brings to your life."

This article was first published in Young Parents