Your bundle of joy may be a bit smaller than you expected. But with a little extra care, your baby will be on track with peers in no time.
Babies born before 37 weeks have less time to develop in the womb. They are at higher risk for medical problems, such as breathing and feeding difficulties, jaundice, and infection. However, there are things you can do to prepare yourself for any emergency while also encouraging your baby’s development.
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Taking an infant CPR class can give you the confidence you need to handle an emergency if one happens. A certified instructor can teach you life-saving skills that you can practice in class. You can find a class through your local Red Cross (http://www.redcross.org), hospital, or community center.
CPR is important to know, especially since premature infants are at higher risk for breathing difficulties and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). SIDS is the unexpected and unexplained death of a child less than one year old. It is rare during the first month of life. It peaks at 2 to 4 months of age before it decreases.
To reduce the risk of SIDS, all infants younger than 1 year old should sleep in a crib in their parents’ bedroom. Infants should be placed on their backs to sleep. They should never be placed to sleep on their stomachs.
You should also make sure your baby is safe when traveling by car. Check the weight standards on the car seat and make sure your baby weighs enough to use it. Infant-only car seats are the best option. Your baby may need to use the head support included with most car seats. If the car seat does not have one, you can put a rolled blanket on each side of your baby to provide support.
Aunt Carol may be excited to pinch the cheeks of her new niece or nephew. However, you may want to consider limiting your baby’s time with visitors, especially those who are sick and those who smoke. Those who do come in contact with your baby should wash their hands with soap and water before touching the baby.
Premature babies are at increased risk when it comes to infections because their immune systems are not fully developed. You’ll want to avoid taking your baby to public places. The lack of visitors may be a blessing in disguise, as it will give you and your partner time to bond with your baby.
One way of bonding is to practice Kangaroo care. Dress your baby in only a diaper and place your baby on your bare chest. Turn the baby’s head to one side. Kangaroo care promotes breastfeeding and weight gain, as well as allows you to bond with your child.
Lastly, the best way to bond with your baby is through breastfeeding. As an added bonus, it will also strengthen your baby’s immune system and promote development.
Your preemie will need special care until he or she catches up to peers. Be sure to talk to the doctor about emergency situations when you should call for help. You may not need to do so, but it is helpful to know the signs of a problem before they happen. Some signs include fever, difficulty feeding, breathing problems, or lack of alertness.
American Academy of Pediatrics
American Pregnancy Association
Care for the premature baby. American Pregnancy Association website. Available at: http://americanpregnancy.org/labornbirth/carepremature.htm. Updated Mary 2007. Accessed October 24, 2013.
Discharge instructions: Taking your premature baby home from the NICU. Einstein Healthcare Network website. Available at: http://www.einstein.edu/einsteinhealthtopic/?articleId=88193&articleTypeId=3&healthTopicid=-1&healthTopicName=HealthSheets. Accessed October 24, 2013.
Going home with your preemie. American Academy of Pediatrics’ HealthyChildren website. Available at: http://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/preemie/pages/Going-Home-With-Your-Preemie.aspx. Updated July 9, 2013. Accessed October 24, 2013.
Premature babies and babies with medical conditions. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia website. Available at: http://www.chop.edu/service/car-seat-safety-for-kids/premature-babies.html. Accessed November 11, 2013.
Prematurity. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated August 30, 2013. Accessed October 24, 2013.
Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Nemours’ KidsHealth website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/parent/general/sleep/sids.html. Updated October 2001. Accessed October 4, 2013.
Taking your preemie home. Nemours’ KidsHealth website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/parent/pregnancy_center/newborn_care/preemie_home.html#a_At_Home_With_Your_Baby. Updated September 2011. Accessed October 24, 2013.
Last reviewed November 2013 by Michael Woods, MD Last Updated: 1/29/2014