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    Like most first-time moms, Brittany Shives had high hopes for the birth of her first baby. But just about every one of those plans fell apart when she gave birth nearly 7 weeks before her due date -- and wound up camping out in the hospital parking lot while her newborn daughter remained in the neonatal intensive care unit.

    Shives was just 33 weeks along and feeling great when she and her husband, Justin, spent a quiet holiday weekend at home. Then at 3 a.m. on Monday -- Labor Day -- everything changed. “I got up to go to the bathroom and, when I got back into bed, my water broke,” she says.

    They made the 45-minute drive to the hospital and were rushed right up to the labor and delivery unit. “I assumed they were going to put me on bed rest,” Shives says. “Then one of the nurses informed me that I wouldn’t be leaving the hospital until I had the baby.”

    Overwhelmed and Unprepared

    That’s when panic set in. “We didn’t even have a car seat yet, we still had two baby showers planned and my maternity pictures were scheduled for later that day,” she says. “I was also scared to death to bring a 33-week-old baby into the world.”

    The doctors briefed Shives on everything that might be wrong with her baby -- and then induced her. When Sadie was born, Shives says she was relieved to see that, at 4 pounds and 15 ounces, her daughter was on the “plumper” side for a preemie.

    They were able to snap a few photos before Sadie was wheeled off to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), where she was attached to so many wires and tubes that breastfeeding was impossible.

    Still, the NICU nurses encouraged Shives to start pumping right away to build the milk supply, which experts say is key.

    Sadie made great progress during her first week: She was breathing without assistance and steadily gaining weight. But until she could finish her bottle at every feeding during a 24-hour period, she couldn't leave the NICU.