Premature baby? Understand your preemie's special needs

If you have a premature baby, understand the challenges your preemie might face — and remember the importance of meeting your own needs.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

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.

Your preemie's special challenges

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.

Taking care of your preemie

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:

  • Find out about your preemie's condition. Uncertainty can be frightening — as can the monitors, respirators and other types of equipment in the NICU. Write down your questions and seek answers when you're ready. The more you know, the better you'll be able to handle the situation.
  • Share your observations and concerns. If you notice changes in your preemie's condition, tell your baby's medical team right away.
  • Establish your milk supply. Breast milk contains proteins that help fight infection and promote growth. Although your preemie might not be able to feed from your breast or a bottle at first, breast milk can be given in other ways — or frozen for later use. Begin pumping as soon after birth as possible. Aim to pump at least six to eight times a day, round-the-clock. Also, ask your baby's doctor about your baby's need for supplementation — either in the form of breast milk fortifiers, supplemental vitamins, or preterm infant formula.
  • Spend time with your baby. Talking and reading to your baby can help you bond. When your baby is ready, cradle him or her in your arms. Hold your baby under your robe or shirt to allow skin-to-skin contact. Learn to feed, change and soothe your preemie. If you're concerned about interfering with IV tubes or monitor wiring, ask for help. Consider personalizing your baby's incubator with a blanket or family pictures.
Aug. 26, 2017 See more In-depth