Having a Baby in a Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU)
This guide is intended to help parents with one of the most emotional roller coasters they will ever ride. I know because I rode it myself in September 2006. I will start by telling you a bit about my story & then I will move on to more practical information for you.
My fourth child was due on 31st October 2006, however I had a planned cesarean section booked for the 18th October. My pregnancy was reasonably normal except I felt rather rougher than before, slightly high blood pressure but nothing to write home about. I did have this strange nagging feeling that she would come early & I was right. If you have had a baby you will know that you are in tune with your body throughout your pregnancy & invariably if you think something is not quite right than it probably isn't.
By the 20th September I was feeling even worse & now I was getting pains in my pelvis. I went to see my midwife who booked me in for a scan a couple of days later. However that never materialized as by the next morning I was in so much discomfort that I went to the delivery suite. On arrival I was examined & told my membranes (waters) had ruptured & were trickling.
Even though I had had that nagging feeling I still cried my eyes out when they told me. I knew my baby wasn't ready to come out yet, but what choice did I have. I was given a steroid injection in my thigh to help prepare the baby for the outside world. If you have this injection & the midwife says 'little scratch', she is lying! It really stings. Sorry to frighten you but I think people should be informed of the facts! I was kept overnight in order that I could have another one of those lovely jabs the next morning. They usually like to space them either 12 or 24hrs apart. In the afternoon I nervously had my operation to bring her into the world. She was immediately wizzed away to the Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU).
Nothing can prepare you for the sight of your little one. Where you should see your plump cuddly baby is a tiny skinny alien. In the first 24hrs of her little life she stopped breathing four times. My husband was present for one of those times. He said she went grey & limp & they had to breath for her until she restarted herself. He really thought we would lose her at that moment. Amazingly within 48hrs she was off the ventilators but she did still have a feeding tube going into her nose, a cannula in her arm & a breathing alarm stuck to her tummy. While all this was going on my heart was aching. All I wanted to do was hold my baby & love her. All in all she spent two long weeks in the SCBU. During that time she was tested & injected many times. She even had a lumbar puncture & phototherapy. I stayed on the maternity ward for the first week recovering from my op. Watching happy new parents come & go with their new editions. The day I went home I cried bitterly. I was no longer pregnant but I didn't have a baby either. It was like being in limbo. My husband & I returned everyday & sat with her in shifts talking to her, playing classical music to her & just loving her as much as we could under the circumstances. When she came home I was so relieved & eight weeks on you would never know she had had such a shaky start.
Your first impressions of the unit may be severe. The place is full of monitors, high-tech equipment & frequent alarms. You may have been through a very traumatic birth so your nerves may already be raw from that. If you feel you can't cope go for a walk, take some deep breaths & try again.
Many babies are extremely tiny & this in itself can be quite a shock. It is not always easy to come to terms with what has happened to you & your family. In many ways you have suffered a loss. Although your baby is alive & being cared for, you may feel that you missed out on a normal pregnancy & delivery. When you should be getting 'congratulations' from people & celebrating you are sitting in a room worrying about your baby. Bonding can be difficult under the circumstances but this can be helped by getting involved with your baby's care routine. The staff always encourage this & it can be very therapeutic for you. As the baby is smaller than average you may feel awkward but with time this will pass.
How Your Baby May Look
Many premature babies have a fine covering of dark hair when they are born. This is called lanugo. It is normal and it soon goes away. If your baby is very premature, he or she may only be the length of your hand and may sleep most of the time. Their skin could seem waxy at first or it may be transparent because there is little or no fat underneath it. If this is the case you may well see the fine network of blood vessels. By the time your baby reaches their due date you should find thay will look like a normal healthy baby. After all they are still developing, just not in the womb.
Incubators - A basic need for keeping your baby warm. Some incubators are closed boxes with hand sized holes in the side to gain access. Other incubators have open tops & often have overhead heaters. These give greater access to the baby.
Vital Signs Monitors - Small pads may be placed on your baby's chest with cables running to a monitor. These check that your baby's heart is working normally. The pads can also detect changes in breathing.
Blood Gas Monitor - This is usually attached to the baby's hand or foot to monitor the amount of oxygen in the baby's blood.
Ventilators - Breathing can be hard work for premature babies. This is caused because they are very tiny & tire easily also their tiny lungs may not be fully developed yet. This machine drives air through a tube placed in the baby's windpipe.
There are two basic types. Positive Pressure Ventilators blow oxygen-enriched air into the baby's lungs. The second is a High Frequency Ventilator which puffs small amounts of air into the lungs hundreds of times a minute.
Phototherapy - This is a set of lights which help with Jaundice. They work by breaking down the build up of bilirubin that builds up in the blood stream.
There are many more pieces of equipment but I have only listed the major ones. Please remember your baby will also have many tubes & attachments to monitor things & help them feed.
This is a very difficult subject but I think it needs to be mentioned. The unit will have a room where you can be alone with your baby if they die. Staff may ask you if you would like to wash & dress your baby. Most units will take a picture if you choose. It may help to keep a momento such as a lock of hair or a hand/foot print. The staff will also help you make arrangements & most hospitals will have a chapel. It can also touch you even if it is another baby in the unit that passes away as it brings home exactly where you are. If you feel you need to talk to someone the staff will help you.
If you don't know what something is or whats happening to your baby, ask! The staff will be happy to answer your questions.
If you have other children, bring them in to visit their new sibling. They need to bond too.
If you wish to breast feed your baby this is possible but you may have to start by expressing for her/him.
Feel free to bring in personal items for you baby such as blankets, clothes or small cuddly toys. This may not be possible in the very early days if your baby is very premature.
When you finally get to take your baby home. you will be asked to return to hospital from time to time for check ups.
Try & take time for yourself & your partner. You will both be stressed.
I hope this guide is informative & useful for you. If everything goes ok I have also written a guide called 'Essentials for a Newborn Baby'. If you feel you need extra support I have added some UK phone numbers at the bottom of this guide. These are for organizations in the UK who can give you more info & support. Many thanks for reading. Worthing_Trader.
National Childbirth Trust (NCT) - 0870 4448707 - Covers all issues to do with pregnancy & birth.
Tommy's Campaign - 020 7620 0188 - Research into the causes of premature birth & other complications.
Parentline Plus - 0808 800 2222 - A free phone line for anyone parenting a child.
Child Death Helpline - 0800 282986 - A free helpline for those affected by the death of a child.
UPDATE OCT 2007: Freya has just enjoyed her 1st birthday & she is a very healthy happy young lady!