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When Preemie Isolation Is Over: Five Tips for Transitioning to the Outside World

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I don’t know if there is ever going to be a time that I can completely let go of the fear of germs.

My son, Jaxson, was born at 23 weeks gestation. Before I saw him for the first time, I had to learn how to do a proper three-minute scrub in. Throughout my son’s 93 days in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), we constantly heard medical professionals say “the most effective way to prevent sickness is to limit exposure.” We were taught from day one that protecting our preemie from germs was very serious business.

When Jax came home on oxygen support, his pulmonologist instructed us to isolate our preemie so his lungs had time to grow without being weakened by illness.

We took isolation seriously. I quit my job to care for my preemie. We left the house only for doctors appointments. We did not allow visitors. We did not attend family gatherings or holiday parties. Some people gave us a hard time because they didn’t understand why isolation was important for our preemie.

Isolation took a toll on our family, but it was worth the loneliness and financial stress because we knew we were doing the best thing for Jaxson.

As Jax grew, his lungs became stronger. Just before his second birthday the pulmonologist decided that it was time for us to have a real taste of freedom! Jax was cleared to start daycare part-time.

Whoa. I had just spent the first two years of my son’s life being hyper-vigilant about germs and exposure, and now I was going to have to ease up. Was I ready for that? Was Jaxson ready for that?

It was time for us to find out! Here are some things I learned along the way as my preemie transitioned from isolation to the “outside world.”

1. Be Prepared for Setbacks

I’m not going to lie, Jax is sick…alot. He’s been admitted to the hospital four times and and has needed oxygen therapy because of respiratory distress. There is a fine line between going back on modified lockdown and allowing free reign and it totally depends on how Jax recovers from each sickness. I learned to (mostly) go with the flow and adapt as needed.

2. Follow Your Gut

I quickly realized that Jaxson’s lungs were in charge! Each sickness is completely different, so I have to rely on Jax’s warning signals. I learned to follow my gut and take action when he was in danger of becoming sicker.

3. Take It Slow.

We began exposing Jax to people and places gradually. We started by bringing Jax to places we knew were safe, like a healthy friend’s house. I learned that “healthy” people share plenty of germs!

4. Find Your Village

We needed a daycare provider who understood how important this transition was to the health of our preemie. That person also needed to be willing to learn about Jax’s sensory issues, developmental delay, and ADHD. I learned that not every care option is a good fit for a preemie transitioning off of lockdown, but there are providers who are willing to help make the transition as safe as possible.

5. Stay aware of your surroundings.

We still pay attention to every person, hand, or toy that comes near our preemie. Even though we are no longer in isolation, we stay away from sickies if we can. I learned that if a person’s cough sounds sketchy – it is!

It’s been two years since we stopped isolating Jax and his lungs are much stronger, but we’re not out of the woods yet. I still use hand sanitizer constantly. I subconsciously steer clear of large groups of people. I automatically count Jax’s respiration rate and monitor for retractions when he catches a cold.

It’s almost impossible to forget the importance of prevention once you see what germs can do to preemie lungs.

When I see my son’s eyes light up at the sight of other kids, I know we made the right decision to stop isolating our preemie. But I’m pretty sure I will always be the mom with the hand sanitizer!

This post originally appeared on An Early Start.

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