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If your bundle of joy arrives before 37 weeks, then he’s a preterm or premature baby. Your baby will be spending a few days in neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), but soon you will be getting him home. You may wonder how you will be able to manage such a tiny baby. Worry no more, in the following article we shall discuss various tips that may help you in taking care of your premature baby at home.
What Are the Characteristics of Preterm Babies?
Your preterm baby will require special care and monitoring, based on how early he has arrived. Your baby will have different characteristics in comparison to a full-term baby, but as time passes, these characteristics may become less and less noticeable.
- Your baby may have low body fat. Fat is very important to generate body heat in newborn babies. This fat under the skin, which is called brown fat, is found near the back, shoulders, neck, armpits, and kidneys.
- Part of your baby’s nervous system may not have developed properly.
- Your baby’s lungs may not have developed fully. Thus, he may have breathing difficulties.
- A full-term baby lacks lanugo, which is very fine hair that covers the body. However, if your baby is born premature, closer to the date of delivery, then he may have this fine fuzz or hair.
- If your baby is born before the 26th week, he may have sealed eyes.
- Your baby may not move much, because there is not much body fat. A baby born around the 29th to 32nd week may have abrupt or jerky movements. However, babies who are born before 29 weeks may show no substantial movements.
- Preterm babies have very low immunity, which makes them more susceptible to infections.
- Your premature baby may have a problem with feeding and thus may not feed properly.
Why Do Premature Babies Need Special Care?
Premature babies are not like full-term babies, and thus they need special care and monitoring. Their bodies are not fully developed or equipped to sustain without intensive care. There has been a tremendous advancement in medical technology, and such babies can be given extra care outside their mother’s wombs for days or months, or till their bodies are strong enough to sustain them without extra support.
Tips for Preterm Baby Care at Home
Here are some tips for parents that may help them in taking care of their preterm baby at home:
1. Feeding Your Baby
You should ideally breastfeed your baby, but sometimes your baby may have a problem in latching, or may not be able to latch at all. You can pump breast milk and feed on the bottle. In some cases, your doctor may advise you to feed formula milk to your baby; this may be special formula milk for preterm babies.
2. Sticking to a Feeding Schedule
A premature baby requires 8 to 10 feeds a day. Therefore, make sure you feed your baby at regular intervals. Do not give a gap of more than 4 hours at any given point in time, as the chances of dehydration may increase, which can be dangerous for your baby.
3. Keeping Record Of Your Baby’s Growth
Preterm babies grow differently than full-term babies. However, they eventually catch up. Your doctor may give you a different growth chart to monitor your baby’s growth.
4. Keeping Track of the Baby’s Vision
Crossed eyes are more common in premature babies than in full-term babies. This problem usually goes away on its own, as your baby grows and develops. Your doctor may want you to take your baby to an eye doctor if your baby has this problem. Some premature babies have an eye disease called retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) – the small blood vessels in the eye grow abnormally. ROP usually occurs in babies who are born at 32 weeks of pregnancy or earlier. If there’s a chance your baby has ROP, your doctor will advise taking him to the eye doctor for regular checkups. ROP can be treated to help prevent vision loss.
5. Monitoring the Baby’s Hearing
Premature babies are also more likely than full-term babies to have hearing problems. If you notice your baby doesn’t seem to hear you, tell your doctor. You can check your baby’s hearing by making noises behind or to the side of the baby. If your baby doesn’t turn hir head or react to a loud noise, tell your doctor.
6. Keeping in Touch with Your Doctor
Even after leaving the hospital, you should keep in touch with your baby’s doctor on a regular basis, and keep taking tips on how to take care of your baby. If the need arises, you may pay a visit to your doctor, too.
7. Taking Care of Your Baby’s Sleep Requirements
Your preterm baby needs a lot of sleep, and he may be spending most of his time sleeping. Make sure he is lying on a firm mattress and with no pillows. Never put your baby on his stomach; always make him sleep on his back.
8.Giving Solid Food
You may have to wait a little longer to give solid food to your baby, as preterm babies may find it difficult to swallow food. Your doctor may advise you to introduce solid foods at around 4 to 6 months after your baby’s expected delivery date, and not his real or actual birth date.
9. Limiting Your Baby’s Outdoor Visits
Apart from visiting the doctor, you may have to refrain from taking your baby out for several weeks. This is because your baby is more prone to catching infections, which can be fatal for him.
10. Practicing Kangaroo Care at Home
You may have been told about kangaroo care in the hospital, and it will be a good idea to practise it for a few weeks at home, too. Skin to skin contact is good for your baby.
11. Getting Your Baby Immunized
Keep track of your baby’s immunization schedule, and get your baby immunized as per the schedule.
12. Restricting Visitors
Your baby’s immunity is very low. Thus, it will be a good idea to restrict visitors at home, especially if someone is unwell or someone who smokes. Make sure whoever meets or touches your baby should wash their hands before doing so.
Stress Relief Methods for Preemie Parents
- You may touch, soothe, and hold your baby as soon as your doctor gives you a heads up.
- You may ask your paediatrician to participate in your baby’s care and well-being. If not, you may inform your paediatrician about your baby’s health and progress.
- Even if you hold your baby, you may spend more time with your baby in the neonatal unit. Ask your doctor about the same.
- If your doctor suggests, you may start feeding your baby.
- Though you may want to take your baby home, it is suggested that you abide by what your doctor says. Your baby is in a protective environment and is taken care of.
Questions You Should Ask Your Doctor
Here are some premature infant care questions that you should ask your doctor:
1. If my first baby is premature, is there any risk of a second premature baby?
If your baby was born between the 37th to 42nd week, then you are more likely to deliver a full-term baby the next time, too. However, if you have delivered your baby from 20 to 31 weeks, then there are more chances that you deliver a premature baby again.
2. What should I do for my premature baby to catch up on his developmental milestones?
Most premature babies may develop at the same pace as full-term babies, if they are not born too early or have some medical complication. Taking proper care, ensuring ample sleep, and kangaroo care work wonders in helping your baby develop in a better way.
3. When should I expose my premature baby to other members of the family?
Your premature baby is more prone to infections, and thus any member of the family with any infections such as cold or flu should stay away from the baby until they have recovered. Whenever anyone wishes to touch the baby, ask them to wash their hands thoroughly.
4. Does being a preemie increase the risk of chronic health conditions?
Your premature baby may have many health complications because he has not had enough time to develop. It is seen that the earlier a baby is born, higher are the chances of him having various health complications such as breathing difficulties, weak muscles, hearing loss, heart problems etc.
Though premature babies require extra care, with time they may achieve all developmental milestones like full-term babies. Keep seeking your doctor’s advice to help your baby grow better.