Understanding Premature Babies
If you are at risk of having a premature baby, a baby born earlier than 37 weeks of gestation, then it is particularly important that you understand the differences between a full-term baby and a premature baby. This can eliminate some of the stress new parents encounter with a preemie.
For one, be prepared to have your infant in the hospital after you are discharged. How long your infant stays depends entirely on how early they were born and any pre or post-birth difficulties they encounter.
Also, prepare yourself for tubes and wires when you first see your new addition. Babies born before 35 weeks of age may have difficulty breathing on their own, so they will be placed on a ventilator. To keep your baby fed and hydrated, an IV will also be inserted. There will be leads attached to your little one to track their heartbeat, respiratory rate, and oxygen levels. All this is in place to ensure that your baby is healthy and well.
Many premature infants also have jaundice, meaning that their liver, which is responsible for recycling old blood cells, cannot keep up. The baby's skin turns a yellow shade, and to help their liver catch up, they are placed under special lights for a day or two. They'll even have cool little shades attached to their head!
During this time when your baby is in the hospital, it is important to spend as much time together as you can. Hold your baby (if they are well enough), and try to get in some skin to skin contact. Studies have shown that the more skin contact a preemie has with their mother, the faster they are released from the hospital.
You will also need to start pumping during this time, as most preemies will not be able to breastfeed. Do not worry; they will soon catch on once the appropriate muscles develop. If your preemie can bottle feed, then try to be there for feeding time for some additional bonding.
Once released from the hospital, your preemie will have a few follow-up visits with a pediatrician to ensure that they are growing and developing properly. Preemies generally grow and develop a bit slower than their full term peers, but by the time they are two years old, they have usually caught up.