Giving birth to a healthy baby is every parent’s dream. But sometimes your little bundle of joy may just arrive a bit too early. If a baby arrives before 37 weeks of pregnancy then that baby is termed as preterm or premature. Preterm babies can also grow up to be strong and healthy. Taking care of a premature baby might require a few extra efforts from parents and the initial days after birth can be tough for both- the parents and the baby. A premature baby will be spending the initial days or hours in the NICU or neonatal intensive care unit. You will be able to take your baby home and take care of her as soon as the doctor allows.
The preterm or premature, as said earlier, is used for babies who arrive before 37 weeks. Some babies can be late preterm at 36 or 37 weeks. Some babies can be moderately preterm at 32 to 36 weeks and some babies can be very preterm at less than 32 weeks. At least 12 percent of all pregnancies are premature births. Almost 60 percent of twins, triplets and other multiple deliveries result in premature births.
Characteristics of a premature baby
A premature baby neither looks or behaves like a fully mature infant. Her birth weight will be lower as compared to a fully mature infant. A premature baby might weigh 2 kgs or little above or below. Thanks to new advances in medicine, children born after 28 weeks of pregnancy and weighing more than 1 kg have a strong chance of survival. Children born before 28 weeks have minimum chance of survival and require extreme neonatal care.
A premature baby will:
- Have low body fat
- Parts of baby’s nervous system have not yet developed
- Baby’s lungs may not have fully developed
- Baby does not have lanugo, or very fine hair that covers the body
- May have sealed eyes
- Have low immunity
- Will have problem with feeding
- Cry very softly, if at all
Taking care of a premature baby
Premature babies need special care and monitoring. Their bodies are not developed enough to sustain without intensive care. At the hospital the baby will be taken good care of when she is put in the NICU. Spend as much time with your baby in the special care as your health and the baby’s health permit. Even if you cannot hold your baby, touch her often. Talk to your baby often. A mother’s touch and mother’s voice calms the baby and comforts them the most. Once your baby is taken home, you need take extra care of your premature baby.
Here are some tips for taking care of a premature baby:
#1. The correct temperature
When taking care of a premature baby, one must remember that premature babies are not ready to stay in the outside atmosphere. They have less body fat. Fat is an important part in newborn babies, since it is required to generate more body heat. With less heat, there are also more chances of your baby of catching a cold. Thus it becomes important to keep your premature baby warm enough. The best way is to make the child dress up in layers of clothes- vest, sleepsuit, blankets are necessary. You can add or remove clothing items according to the outside temperature. You must take care of not to overload a baby with clothes also as that may generate extreme heat. Sudden infant death syndrome or SIDS is a very common term that is used with sudden death of baby in cot which may happen due to overheating, while there is no specific reason for the same. This happens with healthy babies too but premature babies are at more risk. Always use a very lightweight blanket for your child and not a heavy one. Make sure there is no one who smokes near your baby. Keep radiators, heaters as far as possible from the baby and keep the baby’s cot in your room only. If co-sleeping, make sure there is ample of distance between you and your baby.
Also read: How to Take Care of a Newborn in Winters?
#2. Feeding your baby
Ideally, breast milk should be the first choice to feed the baby. Sometimes premature babies have problems to latch on. Then you need to consult a doctor as to how you can get her to feed on your breast. You can pump breastmilk and feed with a bottle or a sterilised spoon. Sometimes mothers who give birth to premature babies have lactation problems and have trouble with breastmilk. Then the doctor will prescribe special preterm formula milk which can be given to babies with the help of a bottle. Always sterilize the bottle properly before giving it to your premature baby as bottles can cause infections. Always use a clean source of water and boil the water and cool it down to room temperature before making the formula milk for the baby. This is an easy way of taking care of a premature baby.
#3. Cleaning your baby
When taking care of a premature baby, use plain water, without any soap or shampoo or oil is just fine for the first few weeks. Nappy changes should also be done with plain lukewarm water using a soft cotton wool. If the baby has very dry skin, do not use any kind of moisturiser without asking the baby’s doctor. As your baby grows older, after discussing with your doctor, you can start using the mild products for your baby’s skin. After a bath, always dry your baby inside the washroom first and then wrap her in a clean towel and bring her outside. Do not leave the baby wet or naked for a long time as then your baby will catch a cold.
Also read: Top 10 Reasons for Low Birth Weight in Babies
#4. Keep a feeding schedule for your baby
If the baby was not premature, she would have got all the nutrition from what the mother would have eaten. So it is important to give that extra nutrient to your baby now that she is premature. Keep a feeding schedule. A premature baby requires 8-10 feeds a day, a little more if breastfeeding. Do not give a gap of more than 3 hours as that might lead to dehydration which is dangerous for a baby.
#5. Practice Kangaroo care
A premature baby’s mother is generally told about Kangaroo care at the hospital. Kangaroo care is a technique where a premature baby is kept in an upright position on the mother’s bare chest. This helps in skin to skin contact and offers great benefits to all babies, specially premature babies. Although this might seem like a unique way of taking care of a premature baby, it is quite helpful.
#6. Very limited or no outdoor for premature babies
Premature babies are susceptible to infection and taking them outdoor too soon would mean inviting infections for them. This can be fatal for the baby. Limit your baby’s outdoor time to only the doctor's visits for a few weeks, or until your doctor gives the green signal.
Also read: How To Take Care Of Your Newborn’s Umbilical Stump
#7. Restrict visitors
There is a new baby at home and everybody will be excited to see and meet her. But as parents you need to keep visitors off limits from your baby for a few weeks because your baby’s immunity is too low. Specially visitors who are not well should be kept off limits. Restrict the number of people who come to visit the baby to only 2 or 3 at a time. Make sure that anyone who touches the baby has washed their hands properly.
#8. Keep a track of your baby’s growth
Premature babies grow at a different rate than full-term babies. They need to catch up on those lost weeks of growth had they been full term. You need to keep a check on the growth of the baby. Ask the doctor for a growth chart for a premature baby and track your baby’s growth. Eventually they will catch up to a full term baby’s growth but the initial few weeks should be monitored carefully.
#9. Sleep schedule
Your premature baby will require a lot of sleep, much more than a full term baby. Make sure you make the baby’s sleep as comfortable as possible. Do not use pillows for the baby and always make the baby lie flat on the mattress. Always make the baby sleep on her back and never on her tummy.
#10. Stress for the parents
If the parents are stressed, especially the mother, then that will definitely affect the premature baby as well. It is very difficult to see your baby in the NICU but you need to be strong and be there for the baby. Ask your pediatrician how else you can make life comfortable for your baby. Always touch and be there for your baby as that is a comfort for both- the baby and the mother. You also need to be well rested to take care of the baby.
Also read: Checkout- What Karan Johar has to say about Premature babies care
Remember, that your little bundle of joy arrived a tad bit early and needs that extra touch, extra care and extra love from you. Do not be scared and do as you are advised by your healthcare provider.
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