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Premature Babies

Dear Elizabeth,
My son was born prematurely and although we’re out of the hospital, I’m still worried about his development now that we’re home. How can we make sure we’re doing everything correctly?
Annie Meyers
Elizabeth's Tips
Elizabeth Sanchez
Elizabeth Sanchez
  • Parents of preemies need to take care of themselves
  • Premature babies often require special care
  • Infants with complications may need additional care by specialists
Expert Advice
Dr. Carolina Reyes
Dr. Carolina Reyes
Executive Director, LA Best Babies Network
A premature baby is a baby born before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Usually this means the baby is born too early and not ready to feed, breathe or tolerate heat as well as a baby delivered at term. Depending on how early they deliver determines the complications associated with prematurity.

Challenges Parents Experience
A mom is usually experiencing a range of emotions after her baby is born prematurely. It is usually under circumstances that she was not prepared for. She may have already experienced time in the hospital with the doctors trying to prevent the premature birth. Initially, when the baby is born, she may be happy to see her baby but shocked at how tiny it is and not sure whether she can care for her new baby.

She may be very stressed not quite understanding the reasons for the premature delivery. It is natural to question one self to see if there is anything that could have been done differently. Often times she may blame herself. At the same time, she is recovering from the labor and delivery, and sometimes being expected to be a part of the decision-making about the immediate care of her newborn. It is a difficult time for her. A time she may need emotional support from family.

Parents Need to Care for Themselves
Many of the families express constant concern for their premature child and don’t know how to relieve some of this constant concern. Parents need to remember to also take care of themselves and to seek support. Get uninterrupted sleep and take breaks to recharge yourself. Get good nutrition to support your physical and emotional recovery. Seek emotional support from those around you.

Development Issues with Preemies
It is quite amazing at how well babies born prematurely do, compared with babies born prematurely even 10 years ago. Depending on how early the baby was born, they may experience respiratory problems, such as: developing asthma; eye problems, needing glasses; problems with development and learning. Medical science has advanced so that we are able to address some of these problems and we know more about the importance of early intervention.

Causes of Premature Delivery
Having a baby prematurely is not always predictable. There are many reasons why a baby may be born prematurely. The greatest risks are associated with women who have had a prior pre-term delivery, multiple gestations and infection in the womb. There are lifestyle risks that may put a woman at greater risk, such as: late prenatal care, smoking, illicit drug use, stress, or long working hours.

Certain medical conditions also increase the chances for a premature birth, such as: infections, uncontrolled diabetes, high blood pressure, short interval between pregnancies, being overweight or underweight, or certain birth defects. Knowing the signs and symptoms of premature labor is important for any woman who is pregnant to know because it is not always predictable.

The Importance of Prenatal Care
Early prenatal care provides the opportunity to identify risks and help avert the complications in pregnancy. For example, a comprehensive assessment, including medical, social, emotional and physical well-being is done with the first visit. This helps identify not only current risks but also prevent future risks. It is also a time period that a pregnant woman and her family can learn about the development of the baby in pregnancy, what to expect, become prepared for parenting, learn about breastfeeding, and newborn care. Parents can be prepared and confident for their newborn. This helps reduce stress.

Before Pregnancy
I recommend that a woman speak with her doctor before she plans a pregnancy. She should have a complete assessment (medical, social, emotional, and physical) and discuss with her doctor a plan for becoming pregnant. Being in good physical and emotional health is vital. Reducing risks such as under nutrition, over nutrition, smoking, drugs, and uncontrolled medical conditions helps a woman have a less complicated pregnancy.
Child Care Provider Comments
Mina Bato
Mina Bato
Mother of a premature baby
All these months of waiting to bring our baby home from the hospital . . . I can’t even describe it. I was happy, excited, overjoyed, and nervous. After all those months of waiting and working when that day finally arrived we realized, “Oh my gosh! He’s off the monitor!” Now that he was not constantly monitored, we felt overwhelmed and scared. All the pressure was on us. The doctor said that he’s doing great but I still have the incubator baby in my head.
Eduardo Bato
Eduardo Bato
father of a premature baby
We feel that he is still very fragile so we feel the need to shield him and protect him. Mina and I agreed that we don’t want him to be limited by our over-protectiveness. We decided to be prepared and ready to be there for him and watch over him but not be overprotective.

Our pets did affect our son’s immune system. We had to take so much care in preparing the house for Elliot. Not only did we repaint everything but we even had to find another home for our beloved dogs. It was a really hard decision for us but we came to the agreement that it wasn’t worth the risk of Elliot getting another serious infection. For the first year, we have to be very careful about protecting Elliot from getting sick. To do this we have to make sure they limit the number of people he comes in contact with.
Marné Jones Boulware
Marné Jones Boulware
mother of a premature baby
We had to educate ourselves about premature babies, take a crash course because; we had no idea about premature babies. Before our son was born premature, the doctor said I should be on limited bed rest. I was eating healthy and getting lots of rest, but all of a sudden at 3:00 am, my water leaked and this was at 28 weeks.

Our son is doing great and he is now eighteen pounds. We wanted to find a pediatrician that would work with us and treat our son as an individual and address our concerns on a case-by-case basis. We wanted a modified vaccine schedule. We wanted a pediatrician that would answer our questions in detail and take the time we needed to address our concerns. We feel our son is a gift. We are cautious but not overprotective. We want to make sure he continues on a wonderful path of positive development.
Parent Comments
Kurt Boulware
Kurt Boulware
Father of a 7-month-old
Our son was in the neonatal intensive care unit (NCIU) for 39 days. My wife visited our son everyday sometimes twice a day and as she pumped we took turns bringing milk to the NICU every morning. Our son had to master the rhythm of "suck, swallow, breathe." My wife and I made up a song to help him remember. Most babies have time in the womb to master the “suck, swallow, breathe” instinct, but our son learned it outside of the womb.

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Topic: Child Development
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