Premature Baby Care: How You Can Help with Premature Babies and their Development

Keep it simple, because stress and likely sleep deprivation will affect how you interact with your preemie. Remember to keep your emotions in check, keep as much of a level head as possible, and do the simple things first: check your premature baby for warmth, make sure they don’t eat before they are ready, and when they do, make sure they don’t overeat; keep up with your doctor’s visits, and always have a plan and a back-up plan ready if something concerns you.

Premature Baby Care: How You Can Help with Premature Babies and their Development

Having a baby can be an exciting and terrifying, but mostly terrifying, time. And that’s if they come on time! When babies are born prematurely, there is always an extra helping of worry for the parents to face.

The good news is much of that anxiety can be helped through learning. Most of the distress parents of premature babies face is because of a lack of ready knowledge. To help ebb the tidal wave of fear and uncertainty, here are some things to keep in mind with premature babies and their development.

Attitude is Most Important

Premature babies are born all the time. There is a wealth of information out there on how to help them make it through their birth and all the way through their premature baby milestones. It is not your fault the baby was born early. This is not a punishment. You might have been surprised by your baby’s early arrival, but you can still control how you react to it. You need to make sure you are relaxed (hard to do right after a birth, I know), and you are focused on the task ahead of you. You must be resolved as any parent is; with premature babies, this is not different, but I am bringing it up here because there is a learning curve with a premature baby you likely did not have when your baby was supposed to be an ‘on-time baby.’

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Premature Baby Facts

I had a friend who had a premature baby by seven weeks. It was a really scary and stressful time for her, and all the more so because she had her son, who was two years old, at the time. She told me later on, it was a relief to her that even though her daughter had been born premature, the nurses and doctors both assured her it was possible for her daughter to hit all her milestones and develop normally. Just because a baby is premature, there is no reason that this alone should cause delays. Still, there were some things her health care professionals recommended in order to help her ‘bridge the gap’ between the full term baby and the premature baby standards.

Feeding after Birth

One of the most surprising premature babies facts is in regards to breastfeeding, or feeding in general if you are not breastfeeding. When babies come on time, most of the new moms settle into breastfeeding soon after birth. With premature babies, it is better to wait longer to begin feeding them. When I first heard this, I was surprised and thought it was counter-intuitive. However, as I listened to the explanation for it, it became more logical. Premature babies have delicate gastrointestinal systems. They may not be completely ready to begin processing breastmilk or formula, and if they become distressed, their intestines can experience a wide range of difficulties. Often, nurses will keep the babies hydrated through IVs until the new mom can feed her child.

When my kids were born, even though they were both late, they didn’t need to eat so much, because their bodies were still full of the nutrients they had from the umbilical cord, too. So while it may seem odd to wait to feed the premature babies, it is in their best interest to make sure their bellies can handle digestion.

Keeping Baby Warm

Premature babies struggle to keep warm, even more than full term babies. Hats are especially helpful here, so the heat can stay inside the baby. If it is possible, it can be a really nice thing to hold your baby to your skin and gently massage his or her body. Massaging the body can stimuli the sensory nerves and develop muscles more quickly. This is something that is true with all babies, but premature babies especially, since they are so small.

In addition to keeping the babies close, there are several different ways to keep them warm and stimulated. Some people will gently pat out rhythms on their babies’ bodies, to keep them warm and to help encourage deeper sleep (like a pat-a-cake lullaby) and others will go the “baby torilla wrap” way, wrapping up the babies in a taco-like manner to keep the body heat inside.

The favorite way of new parents to keep their babies warm is to just cradle them. When my son was born, I don’t think I put him down until I had to. He spent the first twenty-four hours of his life next to me, and I eventually realized letting my husband take care of his diapers was an advantage, even if I had to let my son go. When my daughter was born, we were at a different hospital, but I still didn’t want her out of my arms for very long. Since my kids are close in age, I remember holding her and trying very hard not to fall asleep with her in my arms.

Premature Baby Care: How You Can Help with Premature Babies and their Development

Tracking Progress

One of the more critical learning curve points with a premature baby is the need to keep track of the baby’s progress. There are all sorts of milestones for babies, and premature babies development is to be closely monitored. Some of the things especially monitored are growth, weight, milestones, and habits. Seeing your premature baby’s doctor 24-48 hours after leaving the hospital can help familiarize yourself with the premature infant growth chart, the premature milestones, and the week by week development. The pediatrician is largely recognized as the main authority on how well your baby is developing.

I highly encourage you as a parent to find a pediatrician you like. These are the doctors that, ideally, will see your kids for years to come. My husband and I had a rocky relationship with my son’s pediatrician at first – between the long waits in the waiting room, the busybody administrative assistant, the long waits in the exam room, and the five-minute appointment with the actual doctor, we didn’t feel like my son’s pediatrician was paying quite the right amount of attention to him. When my daughter was born, we switched to a different doctor, and we have a much better time with appointments now. This is critical for premature babies, because doctors will want to monitor their progress even more than a baby who was born on time or even late, like mine. My friend who had a premature baby by six weeks told me once she had to take her daughter in every week and call the doctor if anything concerned her about diet, breathing, movement, or diapers. If you are going to be interacting frequently with someone over a very personal topic like children, if you and the pediatrician are going over premature babies and their development week by week, it is best you can agree on priorities and keep it as pleasant as possible.

Premature baby Milestones

Premature Infant Milestones

When babies are born, there are certain milestones to be expected of them around certain ages. Crawling, standing, walking, talking, and playing ball are some of the most well-known milestones, but there are several other activities as well. When a premature baby is born, typically the infant chart is adapted to account for their early weeks. A premature baby’s time is changed based on how early he or she came out of the womb, and can be further adapted based on any physical concerns. For example, a healthy premature baby born five weeks early might have a month or two delay when it comes to walking. So if walking for a normal baby occurs around 10 months, a premature baby might need until twelve months to begin walking. This is another topic where you will have to talk over the adjustments with your baby’s doctor, and you will revisit it frequently based on your child’s progress.

Premature Growth Charts

Keep it simple, because stress and likely sleep deprivation will affect how you interact with your preemie. Remember to keep your emotions in check, keep as much of a level head as possible, and do the simple things first: check your premature baby for warmth, make sure they don’t eat before they are ready, and when they do, make sure they don’t overeat; keep up with your doctor’s visits, and always have a plan and a back-up plan ready if something concerns you.

Premature Baby Care: How You Can Help with Premature Babies and their Development

Premature Baby Long-Term Effects

Once the baby has been out of the hospital, and you have been enjoying her at home for a while, you might start to forget that your baby was a premature arrival. This is usually how people feel after the short-term concerns of premature births become standard for their day-to-day life.  The fears for the long-term effects usually get triggered when the baby starts to hit her milestones, or is expected to start hitting her milestones and she doesn’t.

While many premature babies don’t suffer any long-term effects of being born early, there are some higher areas of concerns. The lungs, for example, are among the last organs to develop while they are in gestation, so when a premature baby arrives, one of the most closely monitored activities of a baby is how well his or her breathing is going. Asthma is linked to early birth, but it is not unheard of that a baby will grow out of it as his lungs develop and he is more active. Premature babies development later in life have been seen to life full and active lives no differently from their full-term baby counterparts.

There are occasions, however, where there are some longer-term issues with the child. If your child displays behavior that concerns you, there are plenty of things you can do to help with their progress. One of the best examples I have seen is getting a developmental therapist for your child. These are the people who can help your baby get ready to crawl, walk, and move around. While as a parent you often teach your babies how to do many things as they grow, such as holding a spoon, the therapist is trained specifically to key in on the baby’s needs efficiently, and work to correct it. For my friend, she says getting a physical therapist for her daughter really helped her baby progress; after a few months with the therapist, her daughter was on track with full-term babies.

In conjunction with the physical and occupational therapist options, there are also speech therapists who can help your baby. This can help when the child is as young as two, and if there has been slower speech development than normal, a speech therapist can come in and help work with the child to physically form the words with her mouth as well as speak them.

In the case of physical deformities, it is important to remember that examinations with the pediatrician and, if needed, specialists, are required. I knew a child who was born early, and her one earlobe did not develop fully. Even now, she has a much smaller ear on one side than the other. However, while her ear is small, it is still functional. Her mother takes her in to get it checked by a doctor and a specialist every year to make sure as she grows, she will not run into any issues with her hearing.

While outside physical deformities are a concern, perhaps more caution needs to be attended to physical deformities on the inside of a baby’s body. I had a friend with a son who had a small hole in his heart when he was born at thirty-three weeks. He had to go and see a cardiologist and get his heart examined with an ultrasound every couple of weeks to make sure the hole wasn’t getting any bigger or causing him issues.

Premature Babies and You

The truth of the matter is, no matter if you have a full-term baby or a preemie, as a parent you will always want to do what’s best for your child. You will make the sacrifices for them, because they are yours and you love them. Once you’ve committed yourself to them, learned all you need to, carefully monitor progress, and work towards a better tomorrow, you will find the real difference is in meeting the specialized needs of your baby.

Conclusion

Keep it simple, because stress and likely sleep deprivation will affect how you interact with your preemie. Remember to keep your emotions in check, keep as much of a level head as possible, and do the simple things first: check your babies for warmth, make sure they don’t eat before they are ready, and when they do, make sure they don’t overeat; keep up with your doctor’s visits, and always have a plan and a back-up plan ready if something concerns you. It is this loving proactive decision which will help you see it through.

We will be happy to hear from your experience with premature babies, how did you cope and how did it effect you?

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