A baby born between now and 37 weeks will be considered premature and will likely be cared for in a hospital neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). The earlier the baby is born, the more risk there is for health complications.
A preemie may have underdeveloped lungs, skin and specific organs. He or she may have:
- Trouble breathing
- Heart problems
- Too little body fat (and trouble maintaining normal body temperature as a result)
- Jaundice, a yellowing of the skin caused by too much bilirubin in the blood (an underdeveloped liver may be unable to rid the body of excess bilirubin, which forms when old red blood cells break down).
- Impaired vision or hearing
- Bleeding on the brain
Premature birth can also lead to developmental delays, learning disabilities or other mental health issues. But many preemies end up growing and developing normally.
Despite the health challenges prompted by an early birth, preemie care has made great advances in recent years. Many infants born too soon end up thriving, growing and developing normally.
If your baby is born prematurely, its important for you to share in his care in the hospital as much as possible.
What You Can Do
- Observe your baby and make note of any changes in his or her condition that need to be shared with the medical team. The team may include a neonatologist, respiratory and physical therapists, nursing specialists, a lactation consultant, a dietician and other professionals. Talk with the team about your concerns; you'll find them to be very supportive.
- If you plan to breastfeed, begin pumping as soon as possible after birth and try to do it 6 to 8 times a day to have enough milk available. Your baby will need the many benefits that breast milk provides, even if he or she cant nurse yet. Your infants doctors will let you know whether your baby also needs supplementation with formula or breast milk fortifiers.
- Spend time with your newborn in the NICU, speaking, gentle stroking or holding him or her skin-to-skin. Learn from the nurses how to feed, change and calm your infant.
- Try to stay positive and upbeat. This is a very stressful time for you, your partner and your family, but know that your baby is getting very specialized, focused care from the experts, especially if any complications arise.
More specifics about baby care in the NICU from the American Pregnancy Association.
This message is not intended to provide individual medical advice. Always seek the advice of a physician or qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have about your health or medical condition, your breastfeeding issues and your infant's health. Never disregard, avoid or delay contacting a doctor or other qualified professional because of something you have read in our emails, webpages or other electronic communications.
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