November 17 is World Prematurity Day, and it’s a great opportunity for you to talk to parents about premature babies. Premature birth can be a sensitive topic, but you’re in a position to empower parents and better equip them for caring for their preemie.
Special Needs and Medical Issues
You can start by explaining that a premature or preterm baby is one born prior to 37 complete weeks of pregnancy and that the earlier a baby is born, the higher the risk for complications.
Patients are often most curious about the types of complications a premature baby may face. They might not realize these complications range from minor issues to serious concerns and that premature babies are often afflicted with the same medical problems as other sick newborns.
Here’s a handy list of some of the common medical conditions seen in the neonatal intensive care units (NICU) of hospitals for you to share:
- Breathing problems
- Congenital heart defects
- Feeding issues
- Inability to control body heat
- Intraventricular hemorrhage (IVH)
- Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC)
Parents should know that though many premature babies experience developmental delays, learning disabilities, motor deficits, and behavioral, psychological, or chronic health problems, there are also many who catch up and experience normal development.
Top Ways to Care for a Premature Baby
Parents of premature babies are often overwhelmed by the prospect of taking care of their baby. Your advice on some of the best things parents can do when caring for a premature baby can go a long way in easing their minds. It includes:
Learning about common terms, phrases, and problems to become familiar with what the hospital staff is talking about. This helps parents feel more comfortable with what’s going on around them and gives them the confidence to be a part of what’s happening with their baby. Encourage parents to obtain accurate information by talking to other parents who have experienced a NICU situation, and asking the medical staff for materials and recommended resources.
Spending time with their baby. Premature babies need extra care and attention, but the most important things parents can do don’t require medical expertise. They can speak to their baby in loving tones, read to their baby, and learn to feed, change, and calm their baby. When given the green light by doctors, premature babies will also need a lot of touching, holding, cradling, and skin-to-skin contact.
Breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is beneficial for all newborns but is even more so for premature babies since it contains the calories, vitamins, and protein they desperately need. Breast milk can also help protect babies from infection, which is especially important for premature babies whose immune systems are weaker than those of full-term infants.
Since many preemies aren’t ready to begin breastfeeding right away, nurses will initially feed them expressed breast milk through a nasogastric (NG) tube to ensure they are receiving as much nourishment as possible. Also, moms of premature babies can work closely with the hospital staff to determine a plan for feeding pumped breast milk to the baby before the baby begins breastfeeding.
Taking care of themselves. It’s easy for parents to neglect themselves when they are absorbed with caring for their premature baby. However, to better care of their baby, they need to remain healthy, both physically and mentally. Parents need to eat well, get enough rest, take breaks, accept help from loved ones, and seek any necessary support.