So your friend's baby is now coming home. What a lot of people don't realise is, that just because a baby is discharged, it doesn't mean they are fixed. The journey from premature birth is not a linear one, its not like recovering from an operation or short term illness, so your friend may still have a lot on her mind, and a lot to do. The first weeks are undeniably difficult, as the baby (and family) make the adjustment from patient to family member.
In the first couple of weeks contact by text message or email is better than phone or calling in, the new mum and dad can then contact you when its convenient. By all means make it known you are there for them, and available to help, but don't be suprised and much less, offended if you don't hear from them immediately.
If you are invited to visit the baby here are some important things to remember.
Hygeine and handwashing - the new parents have probably been given a list of care instructions, and one of the biggies is making sure that everyone washes their hands before touching or handling the baby. If you can pre empt this and do it without being asked, that makes life so much easier. If you are a smoker, make sure you don't have a cigarette for at least 2 hours before seeing the baby, and don't wear clothes that have been around cigarette smoke. It's really important. Those little particles of smoke can irritate tiny lungs.
Colds and bugs - It's really important, but that little sniffle, or that bug you had a week ago, can really knock a premature baby for six. So make sure you are well and truly "bug free" and that goes for your household too. Your child may have a bug that you are immune to, so make sure that you and your family are in good health before seeing the new baby.
A listening ear - especially after the first two weeks, the new mum and dad might be feeling quite isolated. Often it is encouraged that premature babies are kept away from social situations, like baby groups, particularly in the winter months. The new parents may be feeling lonely and isolated. Invite them for a walk, or pop around with a cake or even a picnic lunch. You don't need to be a counsellor or expert, but just be there and ready to listen.
Offer to help - you could take older children to soft play or the park, you could offer to cook a meal or two, or do some shopping, or a little bit of housework. A new baby can be all encompassing, especially if there are appointments and medical needs to attend to as well.
I do think the greatest gift you can give to a new mum (and dad) is time. I am sure an outfit for the baby, or soft toy, or a gift for mum would be greatly appreciated, but an hour spent chatting, or out for a walk is the kind of gift that money just can't buy.