Up to 13% of babies in the United States are born prematurely, which is any time before 37 weeks of gestation. Premature babies are vulnerable to infection and may not have fully developed organs. They may not even have enough fat on their body to keep them warm and safe.
Your premature baby probably has to spend some time in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) before she’s stable enough to go home. Even though you may feel frustrated that you can’t cuddle your baby the way you normally would, your touch and presence is still important for her development.
At Academy Park Pediatrics, PC, our team provides expert premature baby care at our Lakewood and Highlands Ranch, Colorado offices. Whether your baby is still in the NICU or is already home, following are some tips to help your preemie thrive.
All babies need to be cuddled and held, but your preemie needs extra loving care. Even though they look and are more delicate than full-term babies, loving human touch helps them grow and thrive.
If your baby is still in the NICU, ask her doctors how you can safely touch her. Even if your first touch is just gentle strokes through the incubator portal, your baby will still benefit.
When they’re ready, preemies are especially responsive to a type of nurturing cuddling called “kangarooing.” Just as a baby kangaroo finishes developing on the outside of the mother’s body, but inside a warm pouch, you create maximum skin-to-skin contact for you and your newborn.
When you kangaroo, you dress your baby only in a diaper and then hold her lengthwise between your breasts, with your tummies touching. Her head should be turned so that she can hear your heartbeat on the left side of your chest. Kangarooing has been shown to help:
Feeling comforted, soothed, and relaxed through kangarooing helps your baby sleep more deeply. They need the extra sleep to finish their development.
No matter what you think of your own voice, your baby loves it! They heard you when they were in utero and they can hear you now, whether they’re in an incubator or at home.
Talk to your baby, read them stories, and sing them songs. If you can hold them while talking, singing, or humming, the vibration of your voice into their body provides even more comfort.
When your baby’s in the NICU, she might have to eat through a tube. Your doctor lets you know whether she can have breast milk or not.
Even if she’s not ready for breast milk, start pumping right away. You can freeze what you don’t use for later. Your baby’s immune system isn’t well developed and she’ll need your antibodies to build up her strength. Breast milk also provides important proteins to help her gain weight and strength.
Because preemies are underweight, they require extra nourishment to catch up to their full-term peers. Even if you feed your baby breast milk, your doctor may recommend supplementation. If you don’t have breast milk, or don’t want to breastfeed, be sure to follow your doctor’s nutrition advice.
Even though you probably want to show off your baby, and all of your friends and family want to meet her, now’s not the best time. Your preemie’s immune system hasn’t finished developing. She’s more than usually vulnerable to infections.
Make sure anyone who does visit your home and wants to touch the baby washes their hands first. Schedule your pediatrician visits early in the morning, before the kids (and their germs!) show up.
Within 2-4 days after coming home from the NICU, bring your baby to our office for premature baby care. Even though your baby is stable, she still has hurdles to surmount as her lungs, brain, heart, and other organs finish developing. We keep track of her milestones and make sure she gets the care she needs, including:
Both you and your baby need extra care after a premature birth. Make sure you get the answers and support you need, as well as the medical attention your baby requires, through premature baby care. To set up your first appointment, contact our friendly team by phone or online form.