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How To Care For A Premature Baby? 7 Things Parents Need to Know

The number of premature babies born in India yearly is 3.5 million out of 27 million. Forty per cent of all child deaths under five years of age occur due to newborn deaths (those occurring within the first month of life). An average full-term baby weighs approximately 7 pounds (3.17 kg) at birth. In contrast, a premature newborn might weigh as little as 5 pounds (2.26 kg) [1].

Having a new baby can be quite challenging. Every new mother always wonders if she is properly nurturing and caring for her infant.

Your premature or low birth weight baby may appear similar to any other baby in many ways. All they need to do is stay dry, warm, and healthy. In addition to keeping them clean, they should receive adequate nutrition and fluid intake. Above all, they need you and all the comfort from your love for them and the care their mother can provide them.

You may feel concerned about taking your preterm baby home outside the safety of the hospital if he or she was born prematurely [2]. However, caring for preterm babies is not so different from caring for normal babies, so there is no need to worry. You only need to make a few changes in the environment around the baby and follow a few tips.

How To Care For A Premature Baby?

It is estimated that 60 per cent of twins, triplets, and other multiple births result in preterm births [3].

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1. Temperature:

Your baby must be kept at a temperature that is comfortable and safe. Layering clothing or removing it when necessary is the most effective method. Do not overload the baby's bed with blankets, as this may cause the temperature to rise above what the baby can tolerate.

Maintain the baby's axillary temperature at 36.5-37.3 C (97.6-99.1 F), you can use a digital thermometer for this. The ideal room temperature is 20-23 C [4].

2. Bathing:

Water should not be hot but rather warm. Only plain water should be used to wash his/her hair. Bathwater should not contain any liquid cleansers. The baby should be sponge bathed until he or she reaches a weight of 2.5 kilograms. The use of lotions and oils should be avoided until your baby is at least one month old [5].

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3. Breastfeeding:

The doctor may restrict breastfeeding if you have a premature baby. If this is the case, you will need to pump the breast milk. It is recommended that you consult a doctor before breastfeeding your baby. A baby's digestive system and control of electrolytes in the body all play a role in determining when he or she is ready for breast milk consumption [6].

Some doctors may recommend Kangaroo care for breastfeeding mothers. Sit your baby on your chest in a warm room at home wearing only a diaper. Let them move their heads to one side and enjoy skin-to-skin contact. Kangaroo care should be practised as often as possible [7].

As a bonding experience, kangaroo care is an excellent way to boost parent-child relationships. It also has several benefits like the following:

• stimulating breastfeeding,
• stabilising infant's heart rate and respiratory rate,
• improving oxygenation, controlling body temperature
• and promoting development in newborns.

4. Sleep positions

A premature baby's sleep position is very important. Upon returning from the hospital, ensuring that your baby sleeps on his or her back is very important. This reduces the likelihood of cot death. Newborns need considerable time to adjust to their new sleeping positions after leaving the womb [8]. For proper baby care, ensure that the baby is sleeping in a proper position.

5. Immune system

Premature babies have a weak immune system. Therefore, you should pay special attention to your baby. The infant mustn't develop any infections, as even minor infections might prove fatal [9].

6. Premature baby massage

Massages are beneficial for premature babies. Premature babies benefit from this by developing and improving their immune systems, blood circulation, skin condition, and digestion. Massage also contributes to the healthy growth of the baby [10]. In addition, the comforting strokes of your hand can often induce sleep in a baby if you gently massage them.

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7. Emergencies

Neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) patients have a higher re-hospitalisation rate than the general newborn population [11]. Therefore, if you have a premature baby, it is important to prepare for an emergency rather than wait for it to occur.

Search for the nearest emergency room in your area and determine the shortest route to get there. Be prepared to contact an ambulance if you suspect that your baby's condition is critical.

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) In Premature Babies

It is a syndrome also known as cot death in which healthy babies die during sleep, usually within their first six months. Premature babies are at a slightly higher risk than term babies. Although it is still unknown exactly why SIDS occurs, certain measures can help prevent the occurrence of SIDS, such as [12]:

  • It is not recommended that you let your baby sleep on their stomach or side as this can cause overheating, which is a major cause of SIDS. The practice of back-sleeping provides a baby with more fresh air. It reduces the likelihood that he will become overheated.
  • Do not add anything to the bed other than a fitted sheet. Your baby's breathing can be hindered by blankets, comforters, pillows, and stuffed toys.
  • When sleeping together, exercise caution. Before your infant is a little older, avoid co-sleeping since there are too many potential risks.
  • Breastfed babies are more likely to wake up easily from sleep than formula-fed babies, which may explain why breastfed babies are less likely to die from SIDS.
  • Smoking and drinking alcohol while breastfeeding increases the risk of SIDS.
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On A Final Note...

It can be physically and emotionally exhausting to care for a premature child. In addition, you may be concerned about the long-term effects of premature birth on your baby's health. Therefore, take time to learn as much as you can about your baby's illness, accept help from others, and above all, take care of yourself.

Story first published: Thursday, July 21, 2022, 11:38 [IST]
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