When a baby is born more than three weeks earlier than the predicted due date,
that baby is called "premature." Premature babies (preemies) have not grown and developed
as much as they should have before birth.
Why Was My Baby Born Early?
Most of the time, doctors don't know why babies are born early. When
they do know, it's often because a mother has a health problem during pregnancy,
diabetes (high blood sugar)
hypertension (high blood pressure)
heart or kidney problems
an infection of the amniotic membranes or vaginal or urinary tracts
Other reasons why a baby may be born early include:
bleeding, often due to a low-lying placenta (placenta previa) or a placenta that
separates from the womb (placental abruption)
Yes, preemies may have many special needs. Younger and smaller babies tend to have
more health problems than babies born closer to their due dates. So they often need
to be cared for in a neonatal intensive
care unit (NICU).
Why Must My Baby Stay Warm?
Preemies don't have enough body fat to hold their body temperature. Incubators
or radiant warmers keep them warm in the NICU:
Infant warmers: These are small beds with heaters over them to
help babies stay warm while being monitored. Because they are open, they allow easy
access to babies.
Incubators: These are small beds enclosed by clear, hard plastic.
Temperature in the incubator is controlled to keep your baby's body temperature where
it should be. Doctors, nurses, and others can give care to the baby through holes
in the sides of the incubator.
What Are My Baby's Nutritional Needs?
is the best nutrition for all babies, especially preemies. Breast milk has proteins
that help fight infection. Most preemies can't feed straight from the breast or bottle
at first. Mothers pump their
breast milk and it's given to babies through a tube that goes through the nose
or mouth and into the stomach.
For women who can't give breast milk, doctors may suggest giving the baby pasteurized
human breast milk from a milk bank, which is a safe option.
If you don't breast feed or pump breast milk, your baby will get formula.
Extra nutrients called fortifiers may be added to breast milk or
formula. This is because preemies need more calories, proteins, and other nutrients
than full-term babies do.
Some babies who are very small or very sick get their nutrition through intravenous
(or IV – meaning "in the vein") feedings called total parenteral nutrition
(TPN). TPN has a special mix of nutrients like proteins, carbohydrates, fats,
vitamins, and minerals.
Doctors and dietitians watch the diets of preemies very carefully and make changes
when needed to make sure babies get the nutrients needed to grow.
What Health Problems Can Happen?
Because their organs aren't fully ready to work on their own, preemies are at risk
for health problems. In general, the more premature a baby is, the greater the chance
of health problems.
These problems include:
babies don't have enough red blood cells
apnea, when a baby
stops breathing for a short time; the heart rate may lower; and the skin may turn
pale or blue
infections that babies can get from the mother before, during, or after birth
What Else Should I Know?
Preemies often need special care after leaving the NICU, sometimes in a high-risk
newborn clinic or early intervention program. Depending on their health, they may
need care from specialists, such as doctors who treat problems with the brain
and nervous system (neurologists), eyes
(ophthalmologists), and lungs (pulmonologists).
Preemies will also need to go to all doctor visits, including well-child
checkups, get vaccines that all
babies need to stay healthy, and have routine hearing and eye exams. As your baby
grows, doctors will check:
speech and language, learning, and motor skills
muscle tone, strength, and reflexes
How Can I Cope?
Caring for a preemie can be more demanding than caring for a full-term baby.
Take care of yourself by eating
well, resting when you can, and getting exercise. Spend one-on-one time with your
other children when you can, and get help from others. Look for support from friends,
family, and support groups. You also can get support online from groups such as: