Say Cheese! Smiling Minnesota Baby Gives Hope to Parents of Preemies

"It puts a smile on our faces and we thought it could do that for others as well," Lauren Vinje tells PEOPLE

What a smile!

A photo of grinning Freya Vinje when she was just 5 days old is instilling hope in parents with premature babies all over the country.

The toddler, almost 2 years old, was born at 34 weeks to Lauren and David Vinje on November 27, 2014, in Minnesota — and her parents weren’t sure she was going to make it. Today, Freya is healthy and happy (and a big sister to a 2 month old!), so Lauren and David wanted to remind other parents of preemies that premature births can, sometimes, lead to smiles.

Lauren posted her uplifting throwback photo of little Freya online and it has since garnered over 304,000 likes on the Love What Matters Facebook page.

“I wanted to get the picture out there because it has brought us so much joy. It puts a smile on our faces and we thought it could do that for others as well,” Lauren, 25, tells PEOPLE. “She’s a constant reminder to keep things in perspective and stay positive.”

Lauren Vinje

Lauren says she suffered from preeclampsia, a serious pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure, while carrying Freya — which ultimately led to her premature birth.

“I knew something was wrong when I got so swollen I couldn’t fit my hands together around my ankles,” she says. “Then I started seeing flashing lights.”

preemie smiles
Love What Matters / Lauren Vinje

Doctors told the expecting couple that Freya’s heart rate was dropping and they would need to induce labor. Lauren gave birth to Freya, who weighed 4 lbs. 4 oz., two days later via emergency C-section.

“When I held her, it was the most incredible thing,” David tells PEOPLE. “Getting to hold a tiny little baby that has gone through so much is crazy and overwhelming and amazing.”

Lauren Vinje

Freya stayed in the NICU for one month, hooked up to breathing machines and feeding tubes, before Lauren and David were able to take her home.

“It’s crazy for us to be able to look at that photo and look at her now she really hasn’t changed other than she’s almost 2 and bigger!” says Lauren. “She’s literally the same person as that photo shows. She’s one of those kids that smiles at everyone in the grocery store.”

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Fittingly, Freya was “so, so excited” when little sister Elowen was born two months ago.

“She has blown us away by how much she loves her little sister,” says David. “She’s really just a loving little person.”

Lauren Vinje

And now the parents are hoping their successful journey can inspire others.

“My biggest advice to parents with preemie babies is to never give up,” says Lauren. “Stay positive and stay strong. Try to be there as much as possible and hold them as much as you can and take in those moments, because they are so precious.”

Adds David, “Have hope and believe in your child. It’s what helped us.”

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