Sunday, 12 October 2014

Clothes for Premature Babies (Written in March and Re-edited in July)

Well, this has been a whole new adventure.  Here's the first little outfit for a tiny baby, still five weeks to go till her expected birthdate.

Yes, we are now (as of March 2014) five weeks into the initially harrowing, but now wholly joyous experience of being grandparents to a very premature granddaughter. It has been delightful watching her develop from a tiny, fragile being into a miniature version of a newborn baby, now almost double her birthweight. But still like a tiny doll. I was expecting to start thinking around now for what clothes I might be producing in a few weeks' time, thinking in terms of the baby clothes I made for her older cousin. Instead of looking for patterns for a 3kg+ baby, I've had to re-orientate myself down a couple of kilos, and I've been researching the needs of neonatal unit babies - on the internet as well as by observation in the (brilliant) major NICU unit where we spent so much time.

In this blog, I'll reflect on what I've learned, and also talk about what loving friends and relatives can best do to help. What you need to know first about clothing a tiny premature baby (if you haven't had the experience itself) is that they can't wear 'normal' baby clothes - at least until their tubes and wires are reduced. It takes some searching, but there are ranges of teeny weeny clothes available. But read on before you rush out to buy (or make) too many.

So many friends and family want to buy tiny little clothes, but for our little grand-daughter, we had to persuade them to hold off for a while. Instead, think of things for when the baby is older, but don't press them on the traumatised parents. Offer your support, but don't buy tiny clothes without consulting the parents. Here are some reasons why:
  • Firstly, many premature babies may need to be under a blue light to help counter the jaundice so many early arrivals are affected by. In order to have the blue light cover as much of their tiny body as possible, they need to be kept without clothing other than a nappy for this period (hopefully short).
  • Premature babies are frequently attached to multiple monitors, which means there are wires and tubes coming out in all directions. To get clothing onto a baby in an incubator may mean having to unplug wires and replug, always a nerve-wracking procedure, or threading the clothing via an armhole all the length of a piece of tubing.
  • Everything we've been told and have read says that very premature babies must not be over-stimulated (after all, they weren't supposed to be out in this noisy, bright, confusing world yet). So writhing clothes on and off doesn't help the baby's composure at all.
  • Their skin may be ultra-sensitive, and only the very softest materials are worth considering. And you don't want any awkward buttons or poppers that they might lie on.
  • The baby is going to grow very fast, and what fits one week probably won't fit even a few days later.
The new parents don't want their well-meaning friends to spend money or effort on clothing that may never get a wearing at all. However, seeing the baby in some clothing, when it becomes possible, does help the parents because it makes the baby feel more like a baby - the one they thought they were expecting a few weeks later. So, see how the parents feel about premature baby clothes. They may appreciate bigger garments later.

It quite surprised me, when I looked around, how many of the commercially available clothes were not really suitable anyway, because they don't make allowance for the wires, tubes, sensitivity etc. I saw some delightful size 000 dresses, which had a button to do up at the back of the close-fitting neck, having got the thing over the baby's head. This might work with a similarly size doll, but not with a live baby!

After about 4-5 weeks, we did start to dare thinking about clothes for her for our little one. Now she is  able to wear clothes, albeit carefully designed to cope with all the wires and and tubes. The wonderful charity that supported the NICU, provided at least one tiny (brand-new) onesie-type garment for each baby which was cleverly made with long openings, which fastened up around the tubes, and which could be got on to the baby with the minimum of fuss.

But I'm the newgrandmawhowantstosew. I wanted to provide something myself as a first garment for little Baby I.

I have found one pattern for a vest which is designed with premature babies in mind. It required a bit of adaptation for our little one - they are all different.  But I won't be making any more. Her speed of growth rate mean that each garment will only get one or two wears before it is too small. The pattern comes in 4 sizes: up to 3lbs, 3-5lbs, 5-8 lbs, and 8-11lbs. Here's the link.  Again, many thanks to the generosity of Kymy, who writes the Everything your Mama Makes blog. It is a brilliant design in principle, even though I had to adapt it, easy to put on when a baby is tubed up. Lay down the vest, open. Lay baby on top. Wrap one front over, and the other front, wrap the sides round, and it's on!

Here is mine, in the making and finished:

I did find one problem with the pattern, which might have been rectified by now (I pointed it out to the web owner). It appears to suggest that the two front pieces have to be completely overlapped on each other (via the placement of Velcro). But in fact if you do that, the chest measurement would be exactly the same as the much larger tummy and nappy area. You can see in the picture above how baggy the vest was around the chest and armholes - whereas it was a tight fit round her tummy, and I had to modify it. I found I needed to have the two fronts not fully over-lapping.

I never used the smallest size. (Up to 3lbs.) Although our granddaughter was a lot smaller than 3lbs when born, clothing was not required at that stage, for the reasons above. By the time she could wear any garments, she was already 4lbs and so the second size was almost outgrown by the time the vest above was made.

I started making another one, but, as I've indicated above, the first one was not really the right shape. Like most very premature babies, our granddaughter had no chest to speak of, but was all tummy and nappy. The top part round the shoulders and arms completely drowned her, as you can see in the picture, so the garment really needed to be a lot wider at the bottom than the top. I did a redesign, and cut it out in some very cute material, but she then needed a blood transfusion, and by the time she'd got over that, she'd grown some more. So the second one never got made. By then, she was able to wear more 'normal' baby clothes.

Update in July: Anyway, that is all now thankfully in the past, and she can wear normal baby clothes! Some of those will be in later posts.

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