Giving birth to a premature baby is, without a doubt, a stressful experience for parents. You are anxious about so many things related to your little one, from his health and medical bills to his longer term growth and development. But, finally after the traumatic weeks and months, you are ready to finally bring your precious little one home. A great day – much awaited but, the thought of looking after your baby at home, by yourself, may seem very daunting.
In this article, we cover tips on preparing your home and caring for your preemie at home - explaining how this is different from term infants and finally, tips for relieving your stress. With adequate preparation and knowledge, mums can breathe a little easier in welcoming baby home.
Preparing Your Home
The physical environment at home plays a key role in helping preemies thrive and grow up well. Dr Raut Pradeep Prakash, consultant paediatrician and neonatologist at Kinder Clinic, suggests the following tips:
- Keep your house free of clutter, dust and dirt.
- Take measures against mosquitoes by changing water in vases frequently and not allowing water to collect anywhere (such as the water-collection tray for pot plants).
- If space allows, then keep your baby's room separate from areas of common use so that the visitors can be screened. Direct contact can also be avoided.
- Equip your little one's room with the usual baby products like diapers, diaper cream, tissues and cloths. However, arrange these in separate dedicated spaces, so that another person helping out can easily find the necessary things.
- Keep the breast pump, feeding bottles, milk powder, and the bottle steriliser separate from your baby's sleep and play areas.
- Always follow general principles of good hygiene such as washing your hands before and after handling soiled diapers and sanitising your hands in between handling the baby. These measures should be followed by everyone in your house involved in looking after your baby.
- Be sure to keep your little one at a temperature that is comfortable and safe. If you are not sure what the ideal room temperature should be or how much (or little) you should wrap him up, check with your baby's doctor.
Caring for Your Preemie at Home
When it comes to key aspects of taking care of a preemie at home, Dr Pradeep suggests that it's best to tailor your care plan to suit your child's specific needs after careful discussion with the hospital medical staff.
Most premature baby units in Singapore hospitals conduct specific training depending on the needs of your baby. You will be advised on all aspects of care for your little one, including bathing, feeding, changing diapers, looking for general signs of danger etc.
Parents you can be rest assured that the hospital medical team will send your baby home with a follow-up plan of medical care that will coordinate care with your paediatrician and other medical specialists as needed.
How is caring for preemies different from caring for full term babies?
Preemies needs are different from term infants in various aspects from feeding to sleep patterns etc. Therefore, special attention should be given to their care regime.
When you are ready to bring your little one home, the hospital staff will give you a feeding schedule that will tell you how often you'll need to breastfeed or bottle-feed your tiny baby.
Neonatal experts recommend never going any longer than four hours between each feed to avoid the risk of dehydration. They also advise small feedings to help reduce spitting up, and consulting with your baby's doctor if you see signs of reflux (lots of spit-up) during or following feedings.
Your little one's doctor may also recommend an iron supplement because preemies often do not have the iron stores that full-term infants have at birth. It is also common for premature babies to be prescribed vitamin supplements, or, if your baby is bottle-fed, a special nutrient-rich formula.
A preemie's brain isn't as developed as a full-term newborn's at birth. Because of this, according to Web MD, there are some differences between a premature baby's and a full-term newborn's sleeping and waking patterns.
- Overall, preemies usually sleep longer than full-term babies, but for shorter durations each time. You will probably have to wake up more frequently at night until around six months after your original due date.
- It's highly likely that your little one won't be awake very much, other than for brief periods, until around two months after his original due date. During those moments of wakefulness, remember to give your baby plenty of love and attention, as like with any other baby, this will help him thrive.
Mums, also remember to always lay your preemie down to sleep on his back in a cot with no heavy blankets, stuffed toys and pillows surrounding him. This is in order to prevent the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), which is more prevalent among premature babies than full-term infants.
Fussiness and hypersensitivity
After having stayed in the quiet hospital nursery for the first few weeks or even months of his life, your preemie will possibly get easily disturbed by loud noise, bright lights or movement. Your little one will need a calm environment at home too.
Hold your baby as much as possible, ideally skin-to-skin, as the benefits of "kangaroo care" for premature babies are many and have been well-documented by researchers around the world. You could also try swaddling him using the correct technique before you put him down to sleep.
Protecting your preemie from diseases and smoke
Neonatal experts advise that your little preemie will need more protection than a full-term infant from illness and smoke because both his immune system and lungs will be immature at birth. Keep these tips from Web MD in mind:
- Keep your little one well away from sick family members and friends. Avoid crowded public areas for some time too. Health professionals say that most preemies can start mingling with crowds after they've been home for at least three months.
- Do not allow tobacco smoke anywhere near your preemie.
Overcoming Challenges in Caring for Preemies
The care of your preemie depends on how early he was born and what medical issues or complications he has. Usually, the earlier a baby is born, the higher the risk of complications. Some of the issues your little one may face are feeding difficulties, gastro-esophageal reflux, poor weight gain and occasional oxygen requirement, says Dr Pradeep.
The physical, financial and psychological "burden of care" often causes parents of preemies to experience heightened fatigue and frustration. Constant worrying and guilt are also common feelings these parents can relate to.
Instead of bottling up these feelings or bearing the burden of caring for your baby solely on your shoulders, learn to share your feelings and workload amongst trusted family and friends. Afterall, a burden shared is a burden halved. Many parents also find that talking with other parents of premature infants lowers their anxiety and stress.
It is easy for parents’ of preemies to be trapped in worrying thoughts. Therefore, proactively remind your partner to focus on the positives. Celebrate your preemie’s breakthroughs, such as hitting a developmental milestone.
Do remember to take time out to recharge your strength. Privacy and recreation are essential if you are to continue to meet the challenge of caring for your baby.
Stay in touch with your baby’s doctors and nurses. They can reassure you about your baby’s progress and help you develop workable schedules.
Through it all, remember to never lose sight of the big picture: Despite all the potential challenges, most premature infants these days eventually grow up to be healthy adults.
Nearly 1 in 10 babies in Singapore are born premature. Support prematurity awareness by sharing this with other mums and mums-to-be. Continue to follow Abbott’s DreamBig series, especially for parents of premature babies and pregnant mums-to-be. The next article will discuss breastfeeding in premature babies.