When your baby is born premature, the days, weeks, and months that follow can be a confusing blur of wires, acronyms, and scary-sounding potential outcomes. The noise it creates in your head can be deafening, to say nothing of the alarms, beeps, and cries that come with life in the NICU. But mostly, you feel powerless.
A new education program hopes to change that. Thrive Guide is a free course that aims to school parents of preemies on everything from proper nutrition to promoting development to preventing infection. The first course is available now and covers nutrition during the first six months of baby's life. (Future components will cover such topics as what to do if baby comes home on oxygen, how to promote growth and development, and nutrition for months 6-12.) All information is verified by an expert panel and tackles topics big and small. For instance, there are in-depth articles on how and why to breastfeed your preemie alongside a useful guide on preparing for long skin-to-skin sessions. (Tip: Have everything you need close by and go to the bathroom ahead of time.)
In fact, it's those in-the-know details that make the Thrive Guide stand out. For that, we can credit Cheryl Chotrani, founder of Pebbles of Hope, the nonprofit behind the parent education. Chotrani's son was born in January 2013, 16 weeks early, and spent four-and-a-half months in the NICU. "It was very touch and go," she says. "It was a very difficult time."
Unlike many of us, though, Chotrani comes from a family of doctors who could answer her questions and offer her connections to valuable resources, including an experimental treatment that prevented her son from going blind. Now 2, he's progressing beautifully and is developmentally on target, but the experience stayed with Chotrani. She never forgot how helpless she felt watching her son in the hospital -- and how lucky she was to have access to specialists -- and she wanted to help other families of premature babies.
Enter the Thrive Guide. "We found that there's not a lot out there for parent education, especially for parents in underserved areas," she tells Parents.com. "I just realized that's how I can help. I started compiling information about interventions and anything else we can do to provide best care, and came up with the idea of a course."
Though intended for all parents of preemies, the guide is designed for families in rural areas, where state-of-the-art facilities and specialists aren't as easily accessible, and in cities with large numbers of premature babies and high infant mortality rates. It's available online through udemy.com and Pebbles of Hope's site, and the info can be downloaded and be distributed in print throughout hospitals and local organizations. And because the guide is free, the educational info can reach the people who need it most.
"Parents of preemies are in a helpless situation. You feel like the outcome is completely out of your hands; you feel left out," Chotrani explains. "But I think this guide gives them a sense of control and empowerment. They're not helpless. They have information."
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Bonnie Gibbs Vengrow is a New York City-based writer and editor who traded in her Blackberry and Metro card for playdates and PB&J sandwiches—and the once-in-a-lifetime chance to watch her feisty, funny son grow up.Follow her on Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+.
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