A preterm new born is a baby that is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy (from the last periods of the mother) are complete. They are born too soon before the estimated date of birth to equate to a full term pregnancy. As a result, they are immature (preterm baby is also known as premature baby) and require special care and management.
According to World Health Organization, more than 1 in 10 babies are born premature every year, worldwide.
A preterm new born is weak, small in size and underdeveloped. Its nutritional and energy requirements are more than a full term baby. Due to poor health, a preterm baby is at a substantial risk of suffering from various infections and health problems.
According to several research studies, serious physical and mental health problems are high in extremely premature babies, the ones that are born between 22 to 26 weeks of pregnancy.
A premature baby needs exceptional care after birth, both in the hospital and after discharge. Taking care of a premature baby at home is difficult in absence of monitoring devices and medical support. Here are some important steps which can help in dealing with premature baby care at home.
The premature birth survival rates depend on the level of care taken after the birth of the baby. Maintaining constant body temperature and blood sugar levels, dealing with feeding difficulties; prevention of infections, and breathing difficulties are the four major difficulties in premature baby care.
1. Keep the baby warm.
A premature infant is small in size, with very less body fat. The heat that is generated during the production of energy is lost very fast to the surrounding environment. Hence, a preterm baby can develop hypothermia or reduced body temperature, which if severe, can result in death. Thus, it is essential to keep them covered with soft blanket, etc. to keep them warm.
In neonatal intensive care units (NICU), the baby is kept warm in the incubators. At home, care should be taken that the ambient temperature of the room where the baby spends most of the time is not too warm or cold. Skin-to-skin contact is used to keep the baby warm. Skin-to-skin contact method is also known as ‘Kangaroo mother care”. In this method, the premature baby lies on mother’s chest under her clothes for long periods of time. The warmth of the mother’s body keeps the baby warm. It is also possible to breastfeed the baby at frequently intervals. The kangaroo mother care also helps in development of mother-child bond.
2. Frequent breast feeding
Weight gain is very crucial for premature baby development. Maintaining the blood glucose levels of a premature baby plays a key role in increasing the premature baby weight. A premature baby is unable to suck breast milk immediately after birth. In the NICU, the baby is provided with expressed breast milk by a tube passing through the nose.
At home, the baby may be bottle fed with expressed breast milk if the baby is still unable to breast feed. Supplementary milk formulations should be given in addition to breast-feeding as advised by the doctors.
3. Breathing problems
Breathing difficulties are common in preemies as their lungs are not fully developed. The immature lungs fail to expand after the early birth, due to which a premature baby might not be able to breathe independently. In NICU, oxygen is supplied to the baby through a ventilator. The baby is discharged from the hospital only when baby starts breathing on its own.
At home, the baby should be made to lie on her back while sleeping. Making the baby sleep on stomach increases the risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). Blankets, soft toys, pillows, etc. should not be kept in the baby’s crib.
Premature babies with difficulty in breathing or other complications in lungs can alternatively be placed on their sides while sleeping, to help them to breathe easily.
4. Avoid infections
The immune system of a preemie is weak. Thus, respiratory infections (viral and bacterial) are commonly seen. Preventing infections is an important aspect of premature baby care.
Breastfeeding helps a lot in building the immunity of a preterm a baby. The antibodies present in the breast milk help in fighting infections in a preterm baby.
Avoid touching or carrying the premature baby without washing your hands. Adults other than the mother or the caretaker should restrict from coming in close contact with the premature baby frequently.
Avoid smoking inside the house.
Vaccination against various diseases also helps in development of immunity against preventable diseases.
Prematurely born babies need and deserve higher level of care, both at the hospital and home, in order to ensure normal development in later years.
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