Caring for a Premature Baby - Mommyato Blog
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Caring for a Premature Baby

caring for a premature baby

Caring for a Premature Baby

What is a Premature Baby?

The normal length of a pregnancy is between 37- 42 weeks. Some pregnancies take longer to develop and others are shorter. When a baby is born before 37 weeks, however, she is considered “preterm”, “preemie” or “premature”.  A baby born before 28 weeks is considered extremely premature.

The shorter the pregnancy, the less likely a baby is to survive. If the infant does survive premature birth, she often has immediate, ongoing, and sometimes lifelong special care needs. Factors that affect the outcome of a premature birth include the baby’s birth weight (the longer the baby is in the womb, the more weight the baby gains), sex of the baby, and if medications were given during pregnancy that may have helped develop the baby faster in the womb.¹

A premature birth can impact a baby’s health broadly, including many of the baby’s organs and systems: the lungs, brain, vision and hearing, blood flow, immune system, digestion and body temperature. A premature baby can have problems with any of these systems, including the essential parts that help keep the baby alive: the ability to breathe, keep warm, and feed.¹

If a preterm birth is anticipated, it’s important to develop a care plan with your provider. After the baby is born, and depending on how your baby responds to medical treatments, the care plan can be adjusted and modified. You’ll want to consider your wishes for the baby, taking into consideration your personal beliefs, including your cultural and religious beliefs, as well as your values.  Visit Mommyato for more information on preterm delivery.

How Do You Take Care of a Premature Baby?

A preterm baby can usually go home with parents when he/she is at least 4 lbs. That is if the baby can breathe on his own, keep warm on his own (without the help of an incubator) and is gaining weight steadily.

Once at home, essential newborn care includes protecting the baby from infections.  Keep a clean house (ask or delegate help with this!) and make sure visitors and family members wash hands thoroughly before handling the baby.

Keep the baby warm with layers, removing/adding layers as needed, so that the baby can use her energy to grow instead of burning calories to keep warm.

Breast Milk is ideal for preterm infants because it contains antibodies that help fight infections and helps to develop a strong immune system. Breastfeed frequently and on demand. Very premature infants who struggle with coordination of suck and swallow may need to be fed through a spoon, cup or nasogastric tube. If your baby will be in the NICU for a long time and/or fed through an IV, a lactation consultant can teach you how to pump and store breast milk until your baby can feed on his own. Visit Mommyato for more information on pumping and breast milk storage.

Babies need tender, loving care through stimulation by touch and voice, as well as the constant feeling of safety and love. Practicing Kangaroo care with a premature baby is an excellent way to achieve this with proven benefits. Kangaroo care is when the mother or parent places the naked, diapered baby upright on her/his bare chest, tummy to tummy, with the baby’s ear turned towards the parent’s beating heart.

Kangaroo Care helps regulate the baby’s temperature, encourages access to the breast and breast milk let-down reflex, and promotes deep sleep of the baby (helping the baby direct energy to growth and development). It also promotes bonding between the baby and parent, which has often been interrupted after birth by weeks or months in the NICU.²

As you’re preparing to finally take your baby home, plan your support system:

  • Find a pediatrician who specializes in premature infants who will provide care from infancy to childhood
  • Advocate for many postpartum visits by a home health nurse who can teach and assist you with medical equipment in the home, monitor the baby’s growth and development (weight gain), and assist with feeding challenges
  • Seek out community support from premature baby and newborn support groups, a social worker, clergy, and professional counselors who can help provide emotional support and develop strategies to cope with stress, fears, and problems
  • Research daycares, teachers, schools, if needed, that can help with learning and future developmental challenges.¹

Learning to take care of a premature infant can be intimidating and daunting, but with the right tools and support, you can succeed and give your baby the best chance for a healthy future.

REFERENCES:

  1. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. June 2022. Extremely preterm birth. https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/extremely-preterm-birth
  2. World Health Organization. November 2013. Newborn health: caring for preterm babies. https://www.who.int/news-room/questions-and-answers/item/newborn-health-caring-for-preterm-babies