All you should know about taking care of your premature baby

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Preemies need special medical care in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and remain there till their organ systems can function on their own.

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A full term pregnancy is ideally 40 weeks. A premature birth is when the baby is born before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy. As they are born too early, premature babies or preemies weigh less than their full-term counterparts.

Preemies need special medical care in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and remain there till their organ systems can function on their own. After they are brought home, they need to be followed up for their development and milestones both mental and physical, visual acuity, physical growth and well-being.

Here are a few tips to help parents of premature babies take correct care of these tiny tots

How do I feed my preemie?

All you should know about taking care of your premature baby

Breastfeeding is the best for all babies including premie babies.The breast milk of a mother with a premature baby is most suited for her baby as it is tailor made to help babies physical and mental growth. It also helps the development of the retina and hence improves visual acuity.

The risk of infection is more in these babies especially if bottle fed hence breastfeeding is the best. While initiating breastfeeding non-nutritive sucking is tried till the baby is strong enough to latch on and has learnt to suck and swallow. If top up is required then spoon wati or Bondla feeding can be done.

Where and how should my preemie sleep?

Most preemies sleep in the same room as their parents, either in a crib or bassinet or sometimes even on the parents' bed. Preemies are noisy sleepers, and may snore, snuffle and grunt in their sleep. Do not worry. This happens as their nasal passages are still quite small and underdeveloped. It is unrelated to apnea.2

Apnea is the absence of breathing for more than 20 seconds.3 The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a healthy premature infant to be treated like any other full term one and must be placed to sleep on his back. However, preemies with an active breathing disease, facial deformities or those who vomit or spit up excessively can be made to sleep on their tummies.2

How do I take care of my premature baby?

Preemies have floppy bodies as their body tone is underdeveloped. As they may feel loose to touch, scoop both your hands under your baby to support his entire body and head as your turn him on his back, and change his diaper.

It is advisable to keep the baby home in a well-ventilated room and reduce outdoor visits to the minimum required for the first 2-3 months. Hand washing and minimal handling by persons other than the caretakers is also necessary. The baby should be offered breastfeeding and only those medications as prescribed by the doctor. Even water is not required while the baby is on breast feeds.

How do I give my preemie a bath?

Preemies have very thin and sensitive skin. Hence, wipe your preemie’s body with a soft washcloth and plain warm water.2

How do I hold my preemie?

This can be done in two ways. One is the traditional method, in which your baby can be wrapped in cotton blankets to stay warm and nestled in your arms. The second way is ‘kangaroo care’ that involves skin-to-skin contact. It provides joy and comfort to both the mother and baby and encourages early breastfeeding.2

Can I massage my preemie?

Research suggests that preemies in stable health who are massaged regularly show more organised behaviour than those who don’t. You can begin by gentle stroking, and decide further as per your preemie’s reaction.2   It is advisable that apart from oil no other substance be applied on the babies skin.

Provide your preemie developmental and supportive care by:

  • Observing his environment and minimising unnecessary noise and light
  • Read your baby’s cues and pace your activities with him accordingly.2

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References:
1. Premature babies. NIHn website. medlineplus.gov/prematurebabies.html. Accessed October 26, 2016.
2.Madden S. The Preemie Parents' Companion: The Essential Guide to Caring for Your Premature Baby in the hospital, at home and through the first years. Pg 154. books.google.co.in/books?id=uMkw9_Ekn34C&pg=PT175&dq=caring+for+premature+baby+at+home&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjb7Ki8pvjPAhWEW7wKHVgdCL4Q6AEIRTAD#v=onepage&q=caring%20for%20premature%20baby%20at%20home&f=false. Accessed October 26, 2016.
3.Gunter J. The Preemie Primer: A Complete Guide for Parents of Premature Babies- From birth through the toddler years and beyond. books.google.co.in/books?id=K2UQ4chpe4sC&printsec=frontcover&dq=caring+for+premature+baby+at+home&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjb7Ki8pvjPAhWEW7wKHVgdCL4Q6AEIXTAH#v=onepage&q=caring%20for%20premature%20baby%20at%20home&f=false. Accessed October 26, 2016.

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