Parents of premature babies face a unique set of challenges when it comes to caring for their newborns. Premature births, defined as births before the 37th week of pregnancy, can lead to a host of complications and medical issues for both the baby and the parent. To help navigate this difficult journey, Dr. Maham, a consultant neonatologist and pediatrician in Lahore, shares important things that parents of premature babies should know.
First and foremost, communication with the neonatal healthcare team is key. Regular check-ins and open dialogue with your medical team can help you understand your baby’s condition, treatment plan, and progress. Additionally, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) environment, including equipment and protocols, visiting hours, hygiene practices, and policies.
As your baby grows and develops, keep in mind that premature babies may reach developmental milestones at a different pace than their peers. Adjusted age, also known as corrected age, is an important factor to consider when tracking your baby’s progress. While most preemies do catch up to their peers over time, patience is key, and babies who have faced significant medical issues may need more time to hit their milestones.
Establishing oral feeds can be a challenge for premature babies, who are typically fed through tubes until they reach 33–34 weeks old. Early oral feeding and direct breastfeeding can be achieved through practices like promoter stimulation exercises, non-nutritive sucking, and skin-to-skin contact. And when it comes to infection prevention, practicing good hygiene precautions is crucial.
Kangaroo care, which involves holding your baby in skin-to-skin contact for at least one hour per day, has been shown to have numerous health benefits for both babies and parents. Additionally, keeping your baby warm by maintaining a room temperature above 26 degrees Celsius can be achieved through practices like kangaroo care, swaddling, and delaying bathing until the baby reaches 2 kg.
Mothers should strive to feed their babies exclusive breast milk whenever possible, as it has surplus health benefits. Human milk fortifiers can help with faster weight gain in babies below 1.5–1.8 kg of weight. Multinutrient supplementation, including vitamin D, calcium, iron, and other multivitamins, is also imperative.
All premature babies should undergo age-appropriate screening tests, including brain ultrasounds, hearing screenings, screening for retinopathy of prematurity to prevent blindness, thyroid screening, and screening for jaundice. Regular follow-up care after your baby is discharged is crucial to monitor their growth and neurological development.
Finally, it’s important to celebrate every milestone, no matter how small. Premature babies may progress at their own pace, and each achievement is significant. Remember that while the journey with a premature baby can be challenging, knowledge, support, and collaboration with healthcare professionals can help you provide the best care for your little one.