Preterm Babies: Tips for Thriving in your First Few Months
It’s World Prematurity Day today, so it’s the perfect time to share this post. A Preterm Baby (I personally prefer the word “preterm” over “premature”) is a child who is born earlier than 3 weeks before his/her birth date. Although the occurrence of preterm births has increased over the last few years (an estimated 15 million babies are born before 37 weeks annually), it’s still not something to be taken lightly.
I wrote in the past about my experience having a preemie, you can catch up here. It was a rollercoaster of emotions. On one hand, you’re elated that your baby is finally here. On the other hand, you’re apprehensive about how your baby will thrive over the next few weeks.
What to expect
Here’s what to expect if you have a pre-term baby:
- Your baby is going to be considerably smaller in weight and size than other newborns. The minimum birth weight for a newborn is 2.5kg but s/he may weigh considerably less than this.
- Preemies typically have considerably less protective fat and their skin may be thin and transparent (you might even be able to see his/her blood vessels). Because of this, s/he will be needing extra warmth – incubator or radiant warmer.
- There may be breathing problems as your child’s organs have not completely developed. Your paediatrician will decide if she needs oxygen and when to wean her off it.
- Your child may experience difficulty latching or bottle feeding for the first few days. Ask your doctor when it is okay to attempt breastfeeding.
- Finally, prepare yourself to leave your preemie in the hospital when you’ve been discharged. As difficult as this might be, you can take comfort in the knowledge that your child is getting the best care.
Tips on thriving the first few weeks after your preemie is born
I had my baby at 33 weeks. While I still count myself lucky to have gotten that far, I know that having a preterm baby is not the same experience for all women, especially mums whose babies were born before 28 weeks. However, there are a few general tips that will help you get through your first few months.
- Pick a good hospital: This might seem like belated advice but it’s still valid. When picking a hospital for antenatal and birth, it’s important to choose a hospital that has a well-equipped Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and competent paediatric staff. If you’re not comfortable with the care your child is receiving, you can research good hospitals with equipped NICUs in the area. Contact them to confirm if they are able to take on a new patient and ask your hospital for a referral.
- Focus on you and your baby: If your baby is born preterm, you’ll have a lot of unwanted attention. Your family and friends want to know why you’re still at the hospital and what’s wrong. What I learnt from my extra days in the hospital was to focus all my mental energy on getting better so I could focus on my baby. I also learned to not share medical details and just tell everyone “the doctors are doing their best so we can go home as soon as possible”. Having people question the medical details was adding to my anxiety. Later on, I totally stopped taking calls so I could manage the energy around me.
- Ask questions: It’s all new to you – your baby, your new body and the fact that this is no ordinary baby. It’s okay to ask questions from your doctors, no matter how ridiculous you think you sound. The questions you ask will help you know what’s normal and what you should flag to your doctors. It’s also a great way to start learning how to care for your child when you’re eventually discharged from the hospital. I had a book where I wrote down all the feeding quantities, instructions and medication dosages from the hospital. That way I could insist on what my paediatrician said vs relying on old wives’ tales.
- Prepare for the long haul: You’re not out of the blues as soon as you’re discharged from the hospital. As with all new babies, it’s important that your home is sterile and your child is cared for under the best hygienic conditions. It’s even more important as your baby’s immune system is not as developed as a full-term baby’s. You’re within your right to determine who has access to your baby. I didn’t let anyone carry my baby until he was much older. They could only see him in his cot through the mosquito net. I also had to maintain a certain temperature in the rooms where he was.
- Your appointments are important: You’ll have appointments with your paediatrician weekly or every other week for the first six months after you have been discharged. Your paediatrician will be able to tell you if your baby is catching up and gaining weight as s/he should. She’ll be able to adjust medication dosage and food quantities. These visits will go on for at least the first six months or until your doctor deems fit to review the frequency.
- Be patient with your child: I know this is cliche but it is especially important for preemie parents not to compare their children with other children when it comes to milestones. Their gestational ages may be different. Give your child an extra couple of months to meet milestones before you start to worry about it.
This is not an exhaustive list but it’s a good place to start. Also, remember that with your preemie, you’re preparing for the long haul. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to me in the comments.
Enjoy your week!