This study explored the experiences of mothers of very low birth weight premature infants in a neonatal unit of a public hospital in Johannesburg. The objectives were to determine difficulties faced by mothers, to evaluate coping strategies used by these mothers in dealing with the difficulties and to make recommendations regarding their care. In-depth individual interviews were conducted with a purposefully selected sample and the meaning of these mothers’ experiences was analysed by means of Tesch’s (1990) method of analysing qualitative data. Findings provided insight into emotions and challenges experienced by mothers during the hospitalisation of their infants. Shock and sadness were significant emotional reactions experienced after giving birth to very low birth weight premature infants; subjective suffering; various forms of support; maternal wishes and needs were some of the findings. Rooming-in facilities and information about their babies’ progress as well as psychotherapy and counselling services could enhance these mothers’ abilities to cope with their challenges.