Bringing a premature baby home after a long hospital stay is a big milestone. However, proper care needs to be given to these babies to make their transition from hospital to home environments a smooth one. Babies born before the 37th week of pregnancy are said to be premature. They can weigh between 500 grams to 2500 grams depending on how soon they were born. Their low birth weight often results in preemies not having enough body fat required to maintain normal body temperature. In such a case, the baby may have been kept in an incubator in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) to keep the baby warm and comfortable for a certain period of time.
Another major concern in the care of premature babies is their low immunity and susceptibility to infection. Since hospitals are teeming with infected people, it is very easy for a preemie to catch an infection from the hospital itself. Considering all these factors, it is understandable when the mother of a preemie feels anxious to leave the security of the hospital and take her premature baby home, even though she must have waited for this event for a long time.
Here Are Some Ways To Care For Your Premature Baby After Taking Him Home:
1. Feed The Baby Plenty Of Breastmilk
The antibodies and nutrients contained in breastmilk, especially in the colostrum secreted during the first few days after childbirth provide unmatched nutrition and immunity to a premature baby. Since the sucking reflexes in babies develops only between 32-34 weeks of pregnancy, babies born before the 32nd week cannot be breastfed or bottle-fed and need tubes to provide them milk in the NICU. Even after discharge, very low birth weight babies are often unable to breastfeed. In such cases, try to express breast milk using a breast pump, and feed them using a bottle. Try to use extra small milk bottles available in the market that the baby finds it easier to suckle on. Premature babies usually drink small amounts of milk at frequent intervals, so ensure that you feed them milk on a strict schedule.
2. Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC)
Skin to skin contact between the mother and baby forms the main premise of this commonly used therapy for preemies. You simply need to keep the diapered baby on your bare chest, with a blanket covering the baby’s back. Due to the skin contact the baby recognizes the mother’s smell and voice, due to which he feels safe; this minimizes stress for the baby. As a result, the baby stabilizes and gains weight faster. The nearness to the baby also helps to increase the mother’s production of breast milk.
3. Control The Temperature In The Baby’s Room
Even though premature babies are discharged from the hospital only when they are able to regulate and maintain their body temperature, it is necessary to keep them warm at all times. Babies lose a lot of heat if not kept warm and put on very little weight as a result. Swaddling the baby with cotton blankets is a good way to keep the baby feeling cosy. Also, never use the fan and air conditioner at full power in the baby’s room. Also keep the baby away from direct sunlight so that he doesn’t get sun burnt.
4. Protect The Baby From SIDS
Premature infants are at a higher risk of Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) than full term babies. Some risk factors leading to SIDS that have been identified are cigarette smoke exposure, overheating and infant sleeping on its stomach. In order to safeguard your baby, do not let anyone smoke near the baby. Always put the baby to sleep on its back. Keep the baby warm but do not let him become overheated. Remove one or more layer of blankets if the temperature becomes warm.
5. Avoid Having Visitors Home
Try to avoid people coming home to see the baby for the first few weeks after discharge from the hospital since preemies are at high risk of infection. Normally, newborns are passed around amongst guests for cuddling, but this may pose a big health risk for your preemie. If you do have guests coming over, request them to wash their hands and use a sterilizer before touching the baby. Keep your baby well away from people with colds or infections. If you, yourself have a cold, it is advisable to use a disposable mask before coming in contact with the baby, so that you do not pass on the cold to your little one. Also, avoid taking your preemie to public places as much as possible. Even when you go for doctor’s checkups with your baby, it is not advisable to let strangers touch your child.
6. Wash, Clean, Disinfect And Sterilize Everything
The importance of a clean and hygienic environment is paramount for reducing infection in your preemie and avoiding repeat stays in the NICU. Before bringing the baby home, apply pesticides in the baby’s room to protect the area from small pests and insects. It is advisable to wash surfaces and floors with disinfectant and to keep a hand sanitizer in the room so that anyone can use it before touching the baby. Use only boiled water for milk preparation. After using the bottle, ensure that you wash and sterilize milk bottles thoroughly, to avoid the risk of infection. Soiled preemie clothes must be soaked in disinfectant before washing them.
7. Bathe Them With Care
Do not give soap baths to your preemie. Just wash the baby gently with cotton dipped in water for the first month after discharge. Pat him dry quickly with a soft cotton towel and put his clothes on. The baby must not remain wet for a long time since he loses body heat very quickly. Ask for guidance from the doctor on when you can start giving soap baths to your baby.
8. Be Regular With Baby Medicines
Give your baby his medicines in accordance with a properly planned schedule. The doctor may prescribe certain fortifiers to be added to breastmilk before feeding the baby, to increase the weight of your preemie faster. Probiotics may also be prescribed to certain preemies to protect premature babies from gut infections such as necrotizing enterocolitis. Supplements such as calcium, iron and vitamin D are also usually prescribed to all preemies. Depending on the needs of your baby, some sleep apnea preventing medication can also be given.
9. Go For Regular Check Ups
Go for regular follow ups where weight is evaluated and progress is measured. Doctors measure progress of preemies mainly in terms of weight gain. They assess developmental milestones in terms of the baby’s adjusted age. Also, take your baby for vaccinations in accordance with their vaccination schedule. Doctors usually recommend that preemies get vaccinated for as many diseases as possible, due to their low immunity.
10. Be Alert
Always be alert for signs that your baby is in trouble and needs medical help, at least for the first month after you are back from the hospital. If the baby turns blue or you see that he is showing signs of strained breathing, rush him to the hospital immediately. Other signs you need to watch out for are high fever (above 102 degree Celsius), excessive crying or coughing, extreme sleepiness and complete refusal to drink milk or eat food during a day.