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Health Information For Parents
When a baby is born more than three weeks earlier than the predicted due date, that baby is called “premature.” Premature babies (preemies) have not grown and developed as much as they should have before birth.
Most of the time, doctors don’t know why babies are born early. When they do know, it’s often because a mother has a health problem during pregnancy, such as:
Other reasons why a baby may be born early include:
Yes, preemies may have many special needs. Younger and smaller babies tend to have more health problems than babies born closer to their due dates. So they often need to be cared for in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
Preemies don’t have enough body fat to hold their body temperature. Incubators or radiant warmers keep them warm in the NICU:
Breast milk is the best nutrition for all babies, especially preemies. Breast milk has proteins that help fight infection. Most preemies can’t feed straight from the breast or bottle at first. Mothers pump their breast milk and it’s given to babies through a tube that goes through the nose or mouth and into the stomach.
For women who can’t give breast milk, doctors may suggest giving the baby pasteurized human breast milk from a milk bank, which is a safe option.
If you don’t breast feed or pump breast milk, your baby will get formula. Extra nutrients called fortifiers may be added to breast milk or formula. This is because preemies need more calories, proteins, and other nutrients than full-term babies do.
Preemies are fed slowly because they can get necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), a serious intestinal problem that affects preemies.
Some babies who are very small or very sick get their nutrition through intravenous (or IV – meaning “in the vein”) feedings called total parenteral nutrition (TPN). TPN has a special mix of nutrients like proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals.
Doctors and dietitians watch the diets of preemies very carefully and make changes when needed to make sure babies get the nutrients needed to grow.
Because their organs aren’t fully ready to work on their own, preemies are at risk for health problems. In general, the more premature a baby is, the greater the chance of health problems.
These problems include:
Preemies often need special care after leaving the NICU, sometimes in a high-risk newborn clinic or early intervention program. Depending on their health, they may need care from specialists, such as doctors who treat problems with the brain and nervous system (neurologists), eyes (ophthalmologists), and lungs (pulmonologists).
Preemies will also need to go to all doctor visits, including well-child checkups, get vaccines that all babies need to stay healthy, and have routine hearing and eye exams. As your baby grows, doctors will check:
Caring for a preemie can be more demanding than caring for a full-term baby.
Take care of yourself by eating well, resting when you can, and getting exercise. Spend one-on-one time with your other children when you can, and get help from others. Look for support from friends, family, and support groups. You also can get support online from groups such as:
Learn what a NICU visit will be like for your little one, what you can do to help, and how to find support for yourself.
If your baby is getting medical care in you NICU, find out who will be caring for your baby and how they can help.
Having a newborn in the NICU can be a stressful time. Often, parents forget to ask important questions. This list can help you prepare for the next time you talk to your baby’s care team.
Many things can cause a baby to be born early or with health problems. Some of these things can be controlled, but others canât. Find out what you can do to have a healthy pregnancy.
If you’re about to begin caring for your preemie at home, try to relax. With some preparation and planning, you’ll be ready.
Apnea of prematurity (AOP) is a condition in which premature infants stop breathing for 15 to 20 seconds during sleep. AOP usually goes away on its own as a baby matures.
Retinopathy of prematurity, which can happen in premature babies, causes abnormal blood vessel growth in the retina. Some children will need surgery to prevent vision loss or blindness.
The ductus arteriosus is a blood vessel that connects two major arteries before birth and normally closes after a baby is born. If it stays open, the result is a condition called patent ductus arteriosus (PDA).
Babies who are born premature – before 37 weeks of pregnancy – can have health problems that last their whole lives. Learn ways to prevent early labor and have a healthy pregnancy.
If you’re a first-time parent, put your fears aside and get the basics in this guide about burping, bathing, bonding, and other baby-care concerns.
When kids need intensive health care after they’re discharged from the hospital, it’s important that family and caregivers learn about the devices, equipment, and support they’ll need.
Advice and information for expectant and new parents.
Necrotizing enterocolitis is an intestinal disease that usually affects preemies. Medicines and therapy can help babies with NEC.
Your baby’s here! Find out what to expect on that special day first day of life.
A newborn’s growth and development is measured from the moment of birth. Find out if your baby’s size is normal, and what to expect as your baby grows.
Bonding, the intense attachment that develops between you and your baby, is completely natural. And it’s probably one of the most pleasurable aspects of infant care.
Sometimes when babies are born premature, they have trouble breathing. This can be caused by respiratory distress syndrome (RDS). Learn what RDS is, and how babies can be helped.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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