(MayoClinic.com) If your baby is born too early, the miracle of birth might be overshadowed by concern about your preemie's health 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 or preterm baby is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy have been completed. 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. Feeding your preemie might be a challenge. Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice), low blood sugar, and lack of red blood cells to carry oxygen to your baby's tissues (anemia) are possible. More-serious concerns might include infection, episodes of stopped breathing (apnea) and bleeding into the brain. Some preemies have impaired hearing or vision. Others experience developmental delays, learning disabilities, motor deficits, or behavioral, psychological or chronic health problems. Many, however, catch up and experience normal healthy development.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. The medical team caring for your baby will do everything they can to help your baby thrive. Your role as a parent is essential, too.
You're concentrating on your baby now, but remember that you have special 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. After days, weeks or months in the hospital, it might be daunting to leave the on-site support of your baby's medical team behind. 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.
Before you leave the hospital, consider taking a course in infant CPR. Make sure you're comfortable caring for your baby, especially if you'll need to use special monitors at home or give your baby supplemental oxygen or other treatments. Ask as many questions as you need to. Nothing is silly or unimportant when it comes to caring for your baby. Schedule follow-up visits with your baby's doctor, and find out whom to call if you have questions or concerns in the meantime.
Because sitting semireclined in a car seat can increase the risk of breathing problems or a slow heartbeat, your baby might need to be monitored in his or her car seat before hospital discharge. When you have the OK to use a car seat, use it only during travel. In addition, don't place your baby in a backpack or other upright positioning devices — which might make it harder for him or her to breathe — until you talk to your baby's doctor.
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.
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