Premature babies: Caring for your preemie at home

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Premature babies: Caring for your preemie at home

Your premature baby may have extra needs when you bring him or her home.

Your premature baby is ready to come home. Congratulations! You're probably excited — and anxious. After days, weeks or months in the hospital, it may be daunting to leave the on-site support of your baby's medical team behind.

Here's help getting through the first few months at home.

Keeping your baby safe on the road

First, you need to get home! Infant-only car seats offer the best fit for premature babies. They're always rear-facing, intended for babies who weigh up to 22 pounds. Many infant-only seats have handles and removable bases that allow you to carry the baby in the seat itself.

Make sure you know how to correctly install your baby's car seat. Your baby's medical team may suggest a car seat trial to check your baby's breathing rate, heart rate and blood-oxygen level while buckled in the car seat. The seat may need to be padded or reclined to help your baby's head remain upright and keep his or her airway open.

Handling your baby's special needs

Most premature babies outgrow the need for specialized medical care by the time they leave the hospital. But if your baby has periods of apnea — pauses in breathing — or other breathing problems, you may need to use special monitors at home or give your baby supplemental oxygen. The doctor will explain how to monitor your baby's breathing — and what to do in case of an emergency.

Parents of preemies are often encouraged — or even required — to learn infant cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Knowing that you can restore your child's breathing if needed can help you feel more confident in your ability to care for your baby.

Feeding your baby

Most premature babies can breast-feed or drink from a bottle by the time they're sent home. You'll probably feed your baby as often as any newborn — every two to three hours at first. Expect your baby to be satisfied after each feeding and wet six to eight diapers a day.

If your baby can't take in enough breast milk or formula on his or her own, you may need to help with a feeding tube and a syringe. Frequent pumping can help you maintain your milk supply until your baby is ready to breast-feed.

Encouraging good sleep

Undisturbed periods of sleep are important — especially for preemies. Unless your baby's doctor has given you other instructions, always place your baby to sleep on his or her back. This reduces the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Preventing infections

Your baby's immune system isn't fully developed — making him or her susceptible to infections. To keep your baby healthy, limit outings with the baby as much as possible. Avoid taking your baby to restaurants, stores or other public places. If the doctor's office is crowded, ask to wait in an examining room instead of the main waiting room.

At home, separate your baby from anyone who has a cold or other infection. Make sure visitors wash their hands before holding the baby, and don't allow anyone to smoke inside the house.

Bonding with your baby

Skin-to-skin contact — also known as kangaroo care — can enhance parent-child bonding and promote your baby's development. In a warm room, dress your baby in only a diaper and hold him or her against your bare chest. Turn your baby's head to the side so that his or her ear is over your heart. You may also wrap up together in a robe or large shirt that opens in the front.

Monitoring your baby's growth and development

Frequent checkups will help the doctor monitor your baby's growth and development and identify any special needs. As your baby grows, you may want to ask about early intervention programs designed for children who may be at risk of developmental problems.

Taking care of yourself

Although your baby is healthy enough to live at home, you're still under a great amount of strain. Taking good care of yourself will help you take the best care of your baby.

  • Acknowledge your emotions. Expect to feel joy, excitement, sadness, anger and frustration — sometimes all on the same day.
  • Make healthy lifestyle choices. Rest as much as you can, eat healthfully, drink plenty of fluids and find time for exercise. A brisk daily walk can lift your spirits and boost your energy.
  • Accept help from others. Allow friends and loved ones to care for your other children, prepare food, clean the house or run errands. Let them know what would be most helpful.
  • Seek support. Surround yourself with understanding friends and loved ones. Consider joining a local support group for parents of preemies, or check out online communities. Seek professional help if you're feeling depressed or you're struggling to cope with your new responsibilities.

Your baby will grow and change every day. Take pleasure in each small step your baby makes toward a healthy childhood.

Last Updated: 09/01/2005
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