Tips on how to deal with an early arrival
Premature babies and their parents might have an unexpected and sometimes stressful start to their lives together. Yet with expert care, support and guidance, the early problems often work out. The majority of premature babies develop normally with no serious long-term problems.
Premature babies: what you need to know
Premature babies are babies born before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Premature babies are often described according to how premature they are:
- extremely premature – from 23-28 weeks
- very premature – 28-32 weeks
- moderately premature – 32-36 weeks
- late preterm – 36-37 weeks.
Babies who are born early miss out on growth and development time in the womb. They might need medical support
for their lungs, hearts, tummy and bowels, temperature control and feeding.
But survival rates of premature babies keep improving
as medical knowledge increases. These days, more than 90 per cent of premature babies survive. Moderately premature babies are more likely to survive than extremely premature babies, but even babies born after only 23 weeks have a reasonable chance of survival – more than 50 per cent.
Preparing for premature birth
If you know your baby will be born prematurely, it can help to read up on premature births and babies
and to speak to other parents who’ve had a premmie. It’s also a good idea to visit the NICU before the birth so you know what to expect.
Some practical preparations
can help you feel more in control of things too. Here are some ideas:
- Stock your freezer and cupboards with meals and essentials. Leave some space in your freezer, though – you’ll probably need it for expressed breastmilk.
- Organise help with the cleaning, grocery shopping and so on, if you can.
- Have a contact person, like your parent or a close friend, who can keep well-wishers up to date. You can let this person know what’s going on so they can pass it on.
- Organise care for your other children. This can make it easier for you to visit your baby in the hospital.
How premature babies look
Premature babies are usually smaller and don’t weigh as much
as full-term babies.
Late preterm babies generally look like small full-term babies. Extremely premature babies will be quite small and might fit snugly into your hand.
Your premature baby’s skin might not be fully developed, and his eyes might still be fused shut. He might look exhausted, with fragile, translucent skin.
The neonatal intensive care unit
Premature babies might spend some time in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
Babies in NICUs tend to have lots of machines and technology all around them, which can be overwhelming and even scary at first. But remember that your baby ‘knows’ you – your voice and your smell. Your presence will comfort your baby.
And there’s a lot you can do for your baby in the NICU.
Your baby’s care team might suggest some of the following, depending on how well your baby is:
- Express your breastmilk for your baby to have by tube or bottle. Your breastmilk is the ideal food for your baby. Expressing breastmilk is something that only you can do at the very time you might be feeling like there’s nothing you can do.
- Gently touch your baby – for example, you could hold your baby’s hand or cup his feet.
- Sing and read to your baby.
- Help care for your baby. Your baby’s care team will show you how to you how to wash your baby’s face, change nappies or reposition your baby.
- Help your baby do exercises to gain weight and strengthen bones and muscles – for example, gently bending and straightening his arms and legs. Your baby’s doctor will tell you when it’s OK to start.
This means holding your premature baby in an upright position, skin to skin, on your chest. Kangaroo care can help premature babies control their body temperature, keep their heartbeat and breathing stable, sleep better, get started with breastfeeding, improve weight gain and motor development, and go home sooner.
Talk with your baby’s nurse or doctor about when you can start kangaroo care.
Taking your baby home
It’s normal to feel a mix of excitement and nervousness
when it’s time to take your premature baby home from hospital. You can be assured that the hospital won’t send your premature baby home until staff are confident that both you and your baby are ready.
Here are some preparation tips to smooth the homecoming:
- Get the house as ready as possible, including the place where your baby will sleep. That way you’ll have fewer distractions when he comes home.
- Check your baby’s car seat is properly installed.
- Make sure you know how to use any medical equipment you’re taking with you. It’s also helpful to get a number for a contact person at the NICU in case you need to ask anything.
- Warn family and friends that premature babies can be easily overwhelmed and might need to be protected from too much handling and too many new people to start with. Keep celebrations to just a few visitors at your home.
- If family and friends are ill, it’s best to ask them to stay away.
Premature babies and development
Babies who are born late preterm generally have no serious long-term problems. Extremely premature babies have an increased risk of developmental problems. But even in extremely premature babies, severe developmental problems are still quite uncommon.
is your premature baby’s chronological age minus the number of weeks or months he was born early.
For example, if your child is one year old but was born three months early, his corrected age is only nine months. That means you’re best to compare him to babies aged nine months, rather than one year. It’s also worth remembering that there’s a big range of ‘normal’ when it comes to development.
After you leave hospital, your premature baby will need to have regular health and development checks
You can have these checks with doctors at your hospital’s outpatient clinic. Or you might choose to register with a private paediatrician – ideally one who has experience with premature babies – soon after your baby leaves hospital.
This article was published with permission from the Raising Children Network.