If your baby is born too early, the miracle of birth might be overshadowed by health concerns and the possible long-term effects of prematurity. However, there's much you can do to take care of your premature baby — and yourself — as you look toward the future.
A premature (preterm) baby is born before 37 complete weeks of pregnancy. Generally, the earlier a baby is born, the higher the risk of complications.
At first, your premature baby might have little body fat and need help maintaining body heat. He or she might cry only softly and have trouble breathing due to respiratory distress syndrome or bronchopulmonary dysplasia. Feeding your preemie might be a challenge. Yellowing of the skin (jaundice), a low red blood cell count (anemia of prematurity), temporary pauses in breathing (apnea) and infection are possible. Some preemies have an eye disease in which the retina is not fully developed (retinopathy of prematurity).
Premature babies might also experience impaired cognitive skills, motor deficits, or behavioral, psychological or chronic health problems.
Keep in mind that every baby is different. Your baby's doctor or health care team can help you understand your baby's health concerns.
Your preemie's special needs call for special care, probably in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). In some cases, a premature baby needs to be transported to a hospital that can provide specialized care. You might feel helpless, but there are many steps you can take to help your baby. For example:
You're concentrating on your baby now, but remember that you have needs, too. Taking good care of yourself will help you take the best care of your preemie.
When it's time to bring your baby home, you might feel relieved, excited and anxious. It might be daunting to leave behind the on-site support of your baby's medical team. Keep in mind that as you spend more time with your baby, you'll better understand how to meet his or her needs and your relationship will grow stronger.
To ease the transition home:
To measure your premature baby's development, use his or her corrected age — your baby's age in weeks minus the number of weeks he or she was premature. For example, if your baby was born eight weeks early, at age 6 months your baby's corrected age is 4 months.
You'll always remember your baby's time in the hospital. Now cherish the opportunity to begin making memories at home.