Caring for a Premature Baby
Caring for a Premature Baby: What Parents Need to Know
A birth is considered “preterm” when a child is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy have been completed. Other categories of preterm birth include late preterm (34–36 weeks), moderately preterm (32–36 weeks), and very preterm (less than 32 weeks).
Baby Care Basics: Precautions for Premature Babies
Leaving the Hospital
Taking any newborn home from the hospital can be unnerving, but caring for a preemie can be even more intimidating. At the time of discharge, ask the neonatologist if he or she has any recommendations for your child. Often, he or she can suggest a local practitioner who is experienced in treating children born prematurely.
Guarding Against Illness
You will need to be especially on guard against respiratory illnesses, which can be particularly troublesome for preterm babies. Don’t smoke, and limit your newborn’s exposure to other children.Finally, be aware that premature babies face an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and that the timing of their risk differs from that of full-term babies. Be extra vigilant about following SIDS risk-reduction guidelines, and stick with them for a full year. Always put your baby to sleep on his back in his own crib, don’t smoke, don’t let him become overheated during sleep, and keep soft toys and loose bedding out of his sleep area.
While full-term babies are evaluated based on their actual age, a premature baby is assessed based on her corrected age (also called adjusted age), or how old she’d be if she had been born on her due date. Vaccines are the one exception to the corrected-age rule. Immunizations should be given based on a child’s chronological age.
With all the uncertainty, parents of preemies sometimes feel they missed out on the chance to celebrate their new child. Make a conscious effort to cherish every moment of her life: Take photos in the hospital and at home, and keep a journal or scrapbook to record her progress. And when your big arrival is big enough, share your joy with others. (Just make sure all visitors wash their hands before touching the baby, and that those with upper respiratory infections admire her from a safe distance.) After all, every baby is a miracle — preemies are just a little more miraculous.
Because preterm babies enter the world without the benefit of a full 40 weeks to develop safely inside their mother, they’re vulnerable to a range of complications. Some are lucky enough to be relatively healthy, while others battle many serious problems, such as heart conditions, bleeding in the brain, compromised kidney function, jaundice, and anemia. Additionally, because they have immature immune systems, preemies are especially susceptible to infection.
The earlier a baby is born, the smaller and less developed she’ll be and the higher her risk for complications. Babies born before 32 weeks face the greatest risk of death and long-term disabilities such as mental retardation, cerebral palsy, lung and gastrointestinal problems, and vision and hearing loss. The good news: More than 98 percent of babies born between 32 to 35 weeks survive.
Breast feeding in preterm babies
By 30-32 weeks baby may be able to swallow expressed, let-down or leaking milk that drips or flows while some of the areola (the dark area around your nipple) is in his mouth. Eventually, perhaps between 32 and 34 weeks, he’ll gradually start learning to suck and “milk” the breast himself.