Parent’s Guide to Caring for a Premature Baby

preemie baby

When you’re a parent of a preemie, you have to prepare for anything. The key is learning what those needs are and how to care for your baby in the best way possible. Premature babies are often fragile, but they can be strong, too. With the right care, they can make incredible strides toward recovery and even thrive as they grow up.

November marks Prematurity Awareness Month, the right time to discuss what is considered premature birth and how to care for a premature baby. Continue reading to learn more.


What is a Premature Baby?

A premature baby or preemie is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Infants born too early may have more health problems than full-term babies. 

The risk of premature birth increases each week before 37 weeks of pregnancy. In short, the earlier the delivery, the greater the risk for health complications. A 31-week or a 32-week preemie is at a higher risk of lung problems, heart disease, brain complications, and more. 


Factors That Contribute to Preterm Birth

The leading cause of preterm birth is not fully understood. However, it’s clear that the following factors contribute to it:

  • Smoking during pregnancy 
  • Taking illegal drugs or drinking too much alcohol while pregnant 
  • A history of birthing preemies, abortion, or miscarriages
  • Pregnant with multiples (twins, triplets, etc.) 
  • Underdeveloped placenta or umbilical cord
  • Infection such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes, or other illness that damages the lining of the uterus (the womb)
  • Conditions that cause your body to produce less amniotic fluid than usual, such as diabetes or high blood pressure
  • Maternal age: Women younger than 20 or older than 40 are at higher risk of having a baby before 37 weeks.
  • Accidents or physical injuries
  • Poor nutrition during pregnancy


Challenges of Caring for a Preemie Baby

If your baby is born earlier, they have a low birth weight. Low birth weight can affect their development and long-term health. This condition increases the likelihood of developing vision and hearing problems, neurological issues, heart problems, digestive problems, infections, and other birth complications

Premature babies may also have apnea and respiratory distress syndrome (RDS), making it hard for them to breathe independently. Furthermore, they have trouble feeding with formula or breast milk, which is why they need feeding tubes. In addition, premature babies can also have jaundice and difficulty maintaining a stable body temperature.

The first few weeks after birth are particularly difficult because premature infants have an immature immune system and are highly susceptible to infectious diseases. Doctors and nurses must keep them in sterile and fully-equipped environments and give them lots of attention. That’s why premature babies are treated in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) with 24/7 care. 

After some time in the NICU, the baby can now go home with you as long as they can/are: 

  • Regulate their body temperature
  • Breathe on their own
  • Gain weight steadily
  • Feed properly by breast or bottle
  • Infection-free
  • Complete various assessments, such as heart disease tests, hearing evaluations, and car seat safety checks

Before you leave the hospital, your health care team will advise you on all the details about caring for your baby at home. If you have any questions about the care of your baby, please do not hesitate to ask.


Guidelines on How to Care for a Premature Infant at Home

The care of a premature infant differs from that of a full-term baby, and it’s vital to take the proper steps to ensure your child’s health. The first two years of life are the most delicate for any child, so it’s important to seek the best pediatric care possible. The following tips will help you take good care of your premature infant at home:


Follow Car Seat Safety Recommendations

If you are taking your preemie home, you will need to place them in an infant car seat with a 3-point or 5-point safety harness or a convertible car safety seat. You can also use a car safety seat with a 5-point harness system that is convertible. 

In most car seats, it is necessary to have head supports to hold the baby’s head in a position that maintains all airways open. Before adding extra padding to a car seat, consult the care team. Most hospitals require parents to bring their car seats for testing. During the monitoring process, the baby sits in the car seat hooked up to a monitor that measures their heartbeat and breathing.


Ensure Environment is Clean and Limit Visits

Keep everything around them clean and sanitized to protect your baby from germs. Wash your hands often with gentle soap and warm water, especially before feeding, changing, or handling your baby. Limit visits from friends and family and avoid crowded public places so your child won’t be exposed to too many germs.


Follow Feeding Guidelines

You will feed your baby through breast milk or a bottle. If using a bottle, you’ll need to ensure the milk is warm (not hot), and you may want to use a special nipple that lets less formula escape when they suck on it. Remember to burp your baby after feeding.

Your doctor or nurse will recommend how much formula to give at each feeding based on your baby’s weight, age, and health status. Usually, it is necessary to feed them every 1 and 1/2 hours to 3 hours.  The interval between feedings should not exceed 4 hours, which could lead to dehydration. 

Keep Your Baby’s Temperature Stable

Your baby may have trouble regulating their body temperature, so it’s essential to check their temperature. Use a thermometer to check the baby’s temperature every four hours and when you notice that your baby is unusually warm or cold. Dress them warmly or use blankets if they are too cold and adjust as their temperature changes. It’s best to keep the room between 72 to 78 degrees Fahrenheit, not too cold or hot.


Learn CPR 

To ensure proper care, parents must learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), medication administration, and medical equipment such as oxygen and an apnea monitor, especially in times of emergency. We recommend taking a class with a certified nurse midwife or neonatal nurse practitioner. This training will help you feel more confident about caring for your baby when you go home.


Keep Your Baby Away From Smoke

Don’t smoke around the baby. Smoking has many adverse effects on health, but it has even more dangerous effects for premature babies because their lungs aren’t fully developed yet. If there’s smoke near your baby, they’ll breathe in harmful chemicals that can cause lung problems later in life. Keep the room smoke-free and advise anyone from the house to avoid smoking. 


Prevent SIDS

If you have a premature infant, it’s important to follow the same sudden infant death syndrome SIDS prevention tips as full-term babies. Avoiding soft bedding, keeping the crib empty and uncluttered, and putting your baby to sleep on their back can help reduce the risk of (SIDS).


Don’t Bathe Them Every Day

You should not bathe your premature infant every day; this could dry out their skin too much and cause rashes or other problems. Two-to-four baths per week should be sufficient. When bathing, gently clean his skin with warm water or a baby wipe. Don’t use alcohol-based products because they can irritate the skin of premature babies.


Frequently Asked Questions

Caring for a preemie requires special attention. We have answered some of the most frequently asked questions here.

Is there a way to prevent premature birth?

Although you may not be able to control when your labor begins, there are ways to lower the risk of premature birth. These steps include: 

  • Don’t use drugs, smoke, or drink alcohol during pregnancy
  • Avoid stressful situations
  • Get plenty of rest, exercise regularly, and eat a healthy diet
  • Follow up with checkups and talk to your doctor about chronic conditions
  • Make sure you receive all recommended vaccines for pregnant women


When will I know my baby is hungry?

Your baby’s hunger cues include crying, making sucking motions with their mouth, or turning their head from side to side. For breastfeeding, the baby will push their hands on your breast and move their head toward your nipple when hungry. 


Why is kangaroo care recommended?

Kangaroo care is skin-to-skin contact between a preemie and a parent. Kangaroo care encourages the baby’s development by helping them to regulate body temperature, breathe more easily, eat more efficiently and sleep better. Skin-to-skin contact promotes growth and helps strengthen weak muscles, bones and organs. It also helps the parent bond with their baby.


Give Your Preemie a Healthy Start in Life!

Caring for a premature baby is not easy, but it’s entirely possible. Now that you’re done with this guide, you should be able to provide your preemie baby with the care they need. By sharing this guide, you can also help other parents learn how to care for their premature babies.

The road ahead can be long, but with proper support and careful planning, you can help ensure your baby’s long-term health. Children’s Medical Centers of Fresno works closely with parents regarding newborn care. Get in touch with us so that we can help you and your baby start on the right foot!

When searching for “pediatricians near me” for quality health care for your children, please do not hesitate to contact our pediatric clinic! Get to know more about our healthcare team today.

Call (559) 455-1500 or visit our main page to book an appointment online.

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