When a baby is born more than three weeks prematurely, he or she is considered a premature baby. Premature babies have not grown or developed as much as they should have before birth. That’s why they need special attention. In today’s post, we are going to tell you more on these special babies and how to properly care for them. Read on!
Special Needs and Care of Premature Babies
Premature babies have many special needs. That’s why they often need to be cared for in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
Premature babies do not have the body fat to maintain their body temperature. To keep them warm, neonatal warmers (heated cradles that, when opened, allow easy access to the babies) and incubators (cradles surrounded by hard, clear plastic walls with carefully controlled, low-temperature interiors that can be accessed through holes on either side) are used.
Breast milk is the best source of nutrition for premature babies because it contains proteins that help fight infection. Most premature babies are initially unable to suckle or suck on a bottle. Mothers can pump their milk and then give it to the baby through a tube (a tube that goes from the baby’s nose or mouth to the stomach).
If the mother cannot give breast milk, the medical team may suggest feeding the baby pasteurized human breast milk from a milk bank. In that case, the baby can be fed formula with special nutrients, because premature babies need more calories, protein and nutrients than full-term babies.
Babies should be fed slowly because of their increased risk of developing necrotizing enterocolitis, a serious intestinal problem. Some very small or very sick premature babies are fed through an infusion (or intravenous) line, called total parenteral nutrition (TPN). This type of nutrition contains a special mix of nutrients, such as protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals.
The nutrition of premature babies is closely monitored by the medical and nutritionist team, who make changes as needed to make sure they get the nutrients they need to thrive.
Health Problems a Premature Baby May Have
Because their organs are not fully prepared to function on their own, premature babies are at risk of developing health problems. The more premature a baby is, the more likely he or she is to have health problems, such as the following:
– Anemia: not enough red blood cells.
– Apnea: the baby stops breathing for a short time
– Bronchopulmonary dysplasia and neonatal shortness of breath syndrome: problems with breathing
– Hyperbilirubinemia: excess bilirubin in the blood, associated with jaundice, a yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes
– Necrotizing enterocolitis: a serious intestinal disease.
– Persistent ductus arteriosus: a heart problem.
– Retinopathy of prematurity: a problem with the retina of the eye.
– Infections that mothers can pass on to their babies before, during and after delivery.
Premature babies often need special care after they leave the NICU, sometimes in a high-risk newborn clinic or early intervention program. Depending on their condition, they may need the care of several types of medical specialists from different departments such as ophthalmology or neurology, among others.
Premature babies must attend all of their doctor visits, including regular checkups, vaccinations that all babies need, and regular vision and hearing tests.
Caring for a premature baby is often much more demanding than caring for a full-term baby. It is also very important that the mother and other caregivers take good care of themselves. This means finding time for rest and exercise.
Accept support from friends and family and attend support groups that you can find online or that your social worker or your daughter’s or son’s medical team can tell you about.
Did you give birth to a premature baby? Share your experience with us in the comments below.