Babycare

Challenges and care for your premature baby

Janaki Srinivasan
0 to 1 years

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Challenges and care for your premature baby

Babies born before completing a full term in the uterus are premature babies. The earlier a baby is born, the higher the complications. Some babies are born as early as 32 weeks and these are the ones that face the greatest risks—long-term disability, mental retardation, gastro-intestinal problems, problems with vision, hearing and so on. This is because they enter the world even before they develop fully within the mother's womb.

One thing you need to understand is, even among preterm babies, no two baby's conditions may be alike. Some grow up to be strong, especially those born between 37 and 40 weeks, while others have deficient immune systems and suffer more. You need to be very careful in taking extra care of the little one because they are really small and vulnerable. It is a good idea to be aware and know the “to-do” things early on and be prepared rather than panic when the time arrives.

Before getting to the challenges and care of a premature baby, let us understand why a baby exits the womb early. Here are some of the possible causes:

What Causes Preterm Delivery?

Here are some of the possible risk factors that might be responsible for a preterm delivery:

  • Age: Women who are less than 17 or over 35 at the time of pregnancy are more likely to go for a preterm delivery. Age seems to be a huge factor when it comes to premature deliveries
  • Multiple pregnancy: Women pregnant with twins or triplets or more babies are likely to deliver early
  • Health: It is very important that a woman eats a healthy diet throughout the pregnancy, take folic acid, iron and other nutrients in their diet
  • Moreover, you must gain the right weight during pregnancy. Your doctor will be able to guide you on this based on your pre-pregnancy weight. Also it is very important to get your health problems treated before you plan to start a family, especially, diabetes and high blood pressure
  • Alcohol and drugs: Alcohol and drugs can trigger serious health issues for you and your baby and therefore it is a good idea to completely abstain from any form of alcohol or drugs
  • Other reasons: If your previous delivery was preterm, the chances are very high that you can have a preterm delivery for the second time as well. Moreover, make sure you keep a longer time gap between two pregnancies, especially if you've had a preterm delivery before. Start pre-natal care as soon as your pregnancy is confirmed

What Are The Challenges for My Premature Baby?

Proper care for premature babies is very important as they are extremely fragile at the time of birth. It is a good idea to be aware of the challenges and the care to be given so that you don't get confused when you have to handle one, either for yourself or for someone close to you. Here are some points to keep in mind:

caring for a premature baby

Immediate Challenges For A Premature Baby

  • Loss of body heat easily: It is very important to keep the premature babies warm as they lose body heat very easily. Not being warm enough poses the risk of hypothermia
  • Difficulty/inability to feed: Because their suck and swallow reflex is not yet fully developed, they may have trouble feeding and therefore may be put on top up feed for some time
  • Difficulty in breathing: In some babies, the lungs may not be fully developed and the surfactant that keeps the lungs expanded is absent, so they may have difficulty breathing
  • Prone to infections: In most cases, they are highly prone to infections as their immune system is still developing. Sometimes, if not protected, these infections can prove fatal
  • Bleeding in the brain: Most often, premature babies tend to bleed in the brain right after birth or a few days after birth. Their brain lacks the supply of oxygen which results in brain injury or in severe cases, cerebral palsy, developmental delay and learning difficulties later
  • Abnormal growth of Retina: The eyes of a premature baby are not yet ready to face the world. Moreover, the blood vessels in the retina may not be well developed and if they on an excessive supply of oxygen, it could lead to visual impairment or even blindness

Long-term Challenges For A Preterm Baby

The biggest challenge that premature babies face are the long-term ones, which can be lifelong disabilities. The way they are cared for and they have been briefly summed up as below:

  • Developmental problems: A preterm delivery affects a child's physical development, learning difficulties, problems in communicating and getting along with others and sometimes even taking care of themselves. Some children born early could suffer from ADHD, Autism, and anxiety while others might have neurological disorders
  • Health issues: Intestinal problems (NEC—where the tissue in the gut dies off, digestion problems or blocked intestine), pneumonia, meningitis, vision problems, hearing loss, delayed tooth growth and chronic lung disease are common health issues that premature babies face

How Can I Care For My Premature Baby?

It is obvious that you have mixed feelings about taking your premature baby home and taking care of him/her all by yourself. Rest assured that only when the baby is fit to thrive outside the hospital, he or she will be discharged. Moreover, the doctors and nurses will give you all the instructions you need to care for them. However, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Your baby may have irregular breathing and if you want to keep a check on that, home monitors are available. Your doctor will be able to tell you if you really need one and the irregular breathing will soon become a thing of the past
  • Make sure no one smokes in the car while taking the baby home even if the windows are open. Smoking should be a strict no at the home as well – infact, don't let anyone smoke in the house
  • Make sure your baby always sleeps on his/her back. There is high risk of cot death (SIDS) when preterm babies are made to sleep on their tummies
  • The temperature of the room in which your baby sleeps should be warm and comfortable – avoid using air conditioners or heaters
  • Limit the number of visitors, especially those with cold and other infections. Infact, premature babies should not have frequent visitors in the best interest of their health
  • Wash your hands frequently before touching the baby
  • Keep your home clean and dust-free as much as possible. Make sure that you use clean bedsheets, towels and blankets for your baby
  • Massaging a baby is found to help in the development. Once the pediatrician gives a go ahead, start giving your baby a soothing massage twice a day. You can choose from almond oil, olive oil, coconut oil or the very traditional mustard oil for massaging your baby
  • When the weather permits, take your baby for a stroll around the house or in the garden. However, in the interest of your baby's health, avoid crowded places

Don't let yourself feel guilty for the preterm birth of your baby. Take care of yourself too; it is very crucial that the mother stays physically and emotionally healthy. There are many women out there in the same boat as you. Don't worry much; take good care of your baby and the development will follow slowly, but surely.

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Venkatesan G J

| Oct 11, 2017

Really very useful information. Thank you very much.. Even my baby also premature and born in 31 weeks with 820 gms in weight.

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Shikha Batra

| Oct 09, 2017

very educative blog.. it's very essential to take care of a premature new born babies as they in the high risk category. thanks for sharing all the necessary precautions that one must take.

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