“A baby is born with a need to be loved – and never outgrows it. – Frank A. Clark”Jump To hideThings to Consider when Caring for a Premature Baby
Caring for a premature baby requires specialized attention and support, as their early arrival poses unique challenges for both the mother and the infant. Prematurity, now recognized as one of the leading causes of infant deaths worldwide, has prompted global awareness, with November 17 designated as World Prematurity Day. This day serves as a reminder of the importance of caring for a premature baby and the need to provide optimal support for their well-being.
When a baby is born prematurely, their development outside the mother’s womb is interrupted, necessitating extra care and interventions. The healthcare team plays a crucial role in monitoring the baby’s vital signs, providing specialized treatments, and creating a nurturing environment to support their growth. From assisting with breathing to addressing feeding challenges, their care requires expertise and attention to ensure their development progresses smoothly.
However, caring for a premature baby extends beyond the hospital setting. Parents and caregivers play a vital role in their daily care, creating a safe and nurturing home environment. It involves providing constant support, proper nutrition, and developmental stimulation tailored to their specific needs. While the challenges may be overwhelming at times, numerous resources, support networks, and healthcare professionals are available to guide and empower parents in caring for their premature baby.
By observing World Prematurity Day, we emphasize the significance of caring for a premature baby and the need for continued efforts to improve their outcomes. Through awareness, education, and research, we can strive to enhance healthcare practices, support families, and provide these delicate infants with the best possible chance at a healthy and thriving life.
What is a Premature Baby?
A premature baby or preterm baby or preemie is a baby who is born at less than 37 weeks of gestational age. (T he normal gestational age is 40 weeks) Such births can occur for a variety of reasons, including chronic illnesses in the mother like diabetes, hypertension, over or under weight or other lifestyle issues like smoking or drugs. Any sudden trauma can also result in a premature birth, as can pregnancies that include multiples. A mother who has had a previous preterm birth has a higher chance of subsequent preterm births as well.
As far as possible, doctors try to prevent labor till the pregnancy reaches 39 weeks, by which time the baby is more stable. Yet, in some cases, they may have no option but to deliver the baby early to protect the mother and/or child.
Risks of being born Premature
When a baby is born before 37 weeks, he misses out on some crucial developmental stages of many of his organs, especially his lungs. As a result, a preemie is generally unable to breathe or feed on his own and requires the support of specialized medical devices and care in a neonatal intensive care unit, also called a NICU. Here are some other health risks of being born premature:
- Cerebral Palsy
- Brain Hemorrhage
- Thyroid problems
- Learning Disabilities
- Chronic respiratory issues
- Increased susceptibility to infections
The shorter the time the baby spends inside the womb, the higher are his chances of developing one or more of these risks. However, with all the latest scientific advancements, several preemies do not encounter any of these and grow up to be normal, intelligent children. Yet, this is only possible with a lot of care along with sufficient medical help and support.
Main Challenges in Caring for a Preemie
Caring for a premature baby requires an extra level of compassion and attention. These tiny warriors need specialized care to address their unique challenges and help them thrive. The main hurdles include their ability to breathe independently, feed effectively, and avoid infections.
Breathing is a critical concern for premature infants, and many require assistance from a ventilator until their lungs mature. It can be an emotional experience for parents to see their fragile baby connected to such devices, but each breath brings them closer to strength and self-sufficiency. Feeding can also be a challenge, as preemies often struggle with sucking and swallowing. However, with patience and support, parents can help their baby develop these skills gradually.
Preemies have an increased vulnerability to infections due to their underdeveloped immune systems. Parents play a vital role in safeguarding their baby’s health by following strict hygiene practices, maintaining a clean environment, and seeking medical guidance when needed. While caring for a premature baby can be overwhelming, the love and dedication poured into their care will create a nurturing environment for their growth and development. Remember to seek support from healthcare professionals and loved ones to navigate this journey together.
Things to Consider when Caring for a Premature Baby
1. Bringing Home your Premature Baby
It’s quite likely that your delivery was unexpected and you didn’t get enough time to prepare for your baby’s arrival. Before you leave the hospital, have someone clean the house completely, since your baby is very vulnerable to infections right now. Have an area for the baby setup in your room if the nursery isn’t ready. This is recommended since your preemie needs a lot more close contact with his mother. Arrange for alternative stays for pets and avoid having too many people when the baby comes home. Avoid soft toys that can collect dust or anything that has strong smells or loud music since a preemie is extra sensitive to all these.
2. Handling a Premature Baby
Caring for a premature baby requires special attention to promote their well-being. One beneficial approach is implementing kangaroo care, where the baby is kept close to the mother’s chest for skin-to-skin contact. This practice encourages breastfeeding, provides warmth and comfort, and reduces stress, contributing to the baby’s overall health improvement.
Maintaining a clean environment is crucial when handling a premature baby. Keep bottles of sanitizer accessible for anyone handling the baby to ensure proper hand hygiene. Additionally, prioritize safe sleep practices by placing the baby on their back to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). If there are smokers in the vicinity, kindly request that they stay away from the baby until their health stabilizes.
By embracing kangaroo care, promoting cleanliness, and ensuring a safe sleep environment, you can provide the best care for your premature baby. Seek guidance from healthcare professionals for further assistance tailored to your baby’s specific needs.
3. Feeding a Premature Baby
When it comes to nurturing a premature baby, breastfeeding plays a crucial role. Mothers of preemies begin producing milk shortly after delivery, just like mothers of full-term babies. Initially, pumping may be necessary while the baby is fed through a tube. However, as the baby grows stronger, it is recommended to initiate breastfeeding. Breast milk offers numerous benefits, such as providing essential nutrients and antibodies that help protect against infections and diseases. It is a remarkable aspect of caring for a premature baby that even specialized formulas cannot fully replicate.
Breastfeeding a preemie may require extra patience and time. The baby gradually learns to latch on correctly and develop stronger sucking abilities. Initially, feeding pumped breast milk from a small spoon may be necessary to accommodate their smaller stomachs. Monitoring diaper output, such as around five wet diapers a day with diluted urine, is an important indicator that your little one is getting enough to eat and receiving the nourishment they need for healthy growth and development.
In the journey of nurturing a premature baby, breastfeeding and providing pumped breast milk are precious ways to offer the invaluable benefits of breast milk. This not only supplies essential nutrients but also helps establish a special bond between you and your baby. Remember, with guidance from healthcare professionals, you can navigate the breastfeeding process effectively and ensure the best possible care for your little one.
4. Washing and Cleaning a Premature Baby
Washing a premature baby may seem daunting, but initially, only very basic washing is required. For the first several weeks, only water and soft cotton wool will do, and you don’t need to actually soak him – just using a little water to clean around the neck and the diaper area is sufficient. You’ll need to clean after every diaper change, though a bath isn’t necessary every day. If you’d like to use baby products, talk to your doctor first. He’ll be able to tell you if your baby’s skin is ready for external products and which brands are suitable. Preemies get cold fast, so they need to be wrapped in a towel right after their bath.
5. Shopping for a Premature Baby
Preemies are usually much smaller than full term babies and have less body fat, so finding clothes and diapers that fit can be challenging. In India, there are very few manufacturers for products specially for preemies, but you can find quite a few essentials online, including imported varieties. Otherwise go for the smallest size available and try them out – if your baby is not too premature,they might just fit. As for clothes, make sure they don’t have any snags or zippers – snaps are the easiest to manage. Avoid soft toys, rattles and other noisy paraphernalia for a while and entertain your baby by talking and singing to him.
Tips for Parents of a Preemie
Being a new parent is not easy, but when you have the added challenges of a preterm baby, it can feel like you have no time to rest. Since preemies need to be fed very frequently, the mother’s sleep can be seriously compromised which can further worse conditions like postpartum depression. While it’s not a good idea to have too many people around a preemie, by no means should the mother be left alone to fend for herself and her new baby. It is advised to have someone else to take over the household chores so that the new parents can focus on their family, especially if there are older children to consider or if the preemies are multiples.
There are many extra restrictions and considerations when caring for a premature baby, and it can seem frustrating and exhausting. However, all these precautions in the early stages will pay off as you watch your tiny baby get stronger and healthier and soon you won’t believe that the bouncing child in front of you was once a tiny, helpless little baby!