You have brought your premature baby home. In the hospital, the doctors and nurses took care of her, now it’s your responsibility.
As the mother, you need to be extra careful and make sure that you help your preemie to gain weight.
But don’t worry. Preemies are not that different from other babies – their needs are the same.
Premature babies also need to be fed, cleaned and be kept warm and dry.
But most of all, your baby needs you. Your little one needs your love and closeness to survive and grow healthily.
You must help your premature baby gain weight and grow strong. Here are some tips to help you do that.
Feed your baby breast milk
Breast milk is that best food for all babies, but particularly for premature babies. It is extremely nutritious and provides all the vitamins, protein, and fat that your baby needs to grow.
It has antibodies that protect your baby against viruses, infections and bacteria. It lowers your baby’s risk of getting asthma and allergies.
The most important is the first milk that you produce, also called colostrum. It is especially nutritious for premature babies.
Babies who are only breastfed for the first 6 months and get no formula, are generally healthy and don’t need to go to the doctor very often.
Keep in mind that breast milk is also easier for premature babies to digest.
Also, the breast is easier for preemies to feed from since babies can handle the milk flow from the breast easier than the milk flow from a bottle. With the breast, there is less risk of the baby choking on milk that flows too fast.
Keep the right room temperature
Premature babies can’t keep themselves warm, so they are put in incubators in the hospital. An incubator is a cot that is kept warm. When you take your baby home, you won’t have an incubator so you must make sure that that room temperature is not too cold for your baby.
This is an important point because if your baby is not comfortable, she will not feed properly and gain weight.
In the hospital, the temperature is kept between 23 and 25 degrees C. Measure the temperature of the room you keep the baby in and make sure it’s the right temperature. If you have to use a heater or an air conditioner, make sure you don’t put the baby too close to it.
Don’t overdress your baby as she can overheat easily. Rather dress your baby in layers so you can remove some clothing when your baby feels hot.
Don’t feed on demand
Most mothers feed their babies on demand, but in the case of premature babies, doctors advise that mothers feed their preemies according to a schedule. This is important because you don’t want an underweight baby to miss out on a feed. Also, a premature baby might not show signs that she is hungry.
What about if your baby is sleeping? Wake her up, even if she’s in a deep sleep.
Your doctor will tell you how often to feed your baby. The schedule is usually every two or three hours in the beginning.
Encourage your preemie to drink enough
Many babies fall asleep while feeding. You don’t want this to happen. If your baby drops off to sleep while feeding, try to keep him awake.
One thing you can do, is to interrupt the feed with a nappy change. You can also wake your baby up by changing their position. If you are breastfeeding, change to the other breast; if you are bottle feeding, put your baby on your other side and hold the bottle with your other hand.
Keep in mind that babies tend to swallow a lot of air while feeding. If your baby’s stomach is full of air there will be no room for milk in her small stomach. Your baby will feel full and refuse to drink. Make sure you burb your baby regularly during a feed to get rid of wind in the stomach.
You will know that your baby gets enough milk if he has about 6-8 wet diapers a day.
Supplement with special preemie formula
You might want to try a supplemental formula, especially for preemies. These formulae contain vitamins and minerals that will help your baby reach his ideal weight.
Even if you are breastfeeding, your baby might still need a supplemental formula. Consult your doctor if you are unsure.
Let baby practice sucking
Premature babies often have problems feeding properly. Part of that is their struggle to latch on the breast and suck effectively on it. One way to encourage them to practice their sucking is to have them suck on something when they are not feeding.
For this purpose, you can try to offer a pacifier or one of your fingers. Some babies will also suck on the end of a blanket. You can also see if your baby will suck for a while on your breast even if it’s not feeding time.
Practice kangaroo care
Kangaroo care is holding a baby in such a way that there is skin-to-skin contact. This means you hold your baby who is wearing only a diaper next to your bare chest.
Skin to skin contact has many benefits for your premature baby. The practice
- helps babies to gain weight
- helps them to stay warm
- regulates their breath
- regulates their heart rate
- promotes good sleep
- keeps babies quiet and content
- makes breastfeeding easier
Swaddle your baby
You want your baby to feel comfortable, warm and secure. Swaddling (wrapping) is the best way to achieve that. Premature babies, like other babies, feel more secure when they are swaddled. Many Neonatal ICUs encourage mothers to swaddle their preemies.
Swaddling offers many benefits for babies. It
- comforts them and helps them to feel secure
- helps them to sleep comfortably on their back reducing the risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome)
- reduces sudden, involuntary arm and leg movements which can interrupt sleep
How to swaddle
Wrap your baby with his legs tucked up and hands together in front of him. Use light fabrics like muslin or cotton to wrap with. Don’t use baby blankets or bunny rugs, they might make your baby too hot.
Wrap your baby snug, but allow space so he can move his legs a bit. Fix the wrap securely so it can’t come loose and cover your baby’s face.
Massage your baby
This is about the importance of touch. Touch is vital for our wellbeing. Babies who are not held, caressed, and hugged can stop growing and thriving. In severe cases when this goes on for a long time, babies can even die.
Through your touch, your baby feels your love and is encouraged to grow and thrive. Massage your premature baby using gentle strokes once or twice a day.
Doctors recommend that the mother does this or one of the grandmothers. Don’t hire an outsider for this purpose.
Get your baby checked regularly
It’s important that your baby’s progress is monitored continually. In the hospital, the nursing staff did this and it has to continue after you take your baby home. When you leave the hospital, the nursing staff will inform you of your baby’s follow up appointments. These are important, make sure you don’t miss any of them.
If your baby is not making the desired progress, the doctor will see that immediately and take appropriate action. This is also the time for you to discuss any questions you might have or problems you might be experiencing.
If you follow these tips and shower your baby with lots of love your baby will soon grow into a strong and healthy child.
Question parents often ask
What is a good weight for a premature baby?
Many premature babies weigh less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces (2,500 grams).
A baby born at 27 weeks weighs around 2 pounds, 3 ounces (1,000 grams); a baby born at 30 weeks weighs around 3 pounds, 3 ounces (1,450 grams).
How fast do premature babies grow?
A baby born at 33 weeks should gain around 20 gms per day, or on an average of a quarter of an ounce each day for every pound he or she weighs.
How much milk should a premature baby drink?
When you leave the hospital, remember to ask the NICU staff how much your baby was drinking under their care. That can help you to know how much you should feed your baby to start off with.
Most breastfed newborn babies drink between about eight and 12 times a day. That works out to feeding your baby every 2 to 3 hours.
If your baby drinks from a bottle, he should get about 1 1/2 to 3 ounces of milk to drink every 2 to 3 hours.
How do you know if your baby is not getting enough to drink? You will be able to see that from these signs of dehydration:
- He’s crying, but there are no tears.
- His eyes are sunken.
- He has only 6 or fewer wet diapers in a day (24 hours).
- Sunken fontanelles – these are soft spots on the top, back, and sides of a baby’s head.
How fast do preemies gain weight?
The weight gain will depend on the baby’s size and gestational age. Gestational age means how far the pregnancy is. If the baby’s gestational age is 7 months, he was born when his mother was 7 months pregnant.
As far as weight gain goes, it might be as little as 5 grams a day for a tiny baby at 24 weeks, or 20 to 30 grams a day for a larger baby at 33 or more weeks, according to MedlinePlus.
According to the same source, a baby should gain about a quarter of an ounce (30 grams) each day for every pound (1/2 kilogram) they weigh. This is equal to 15 grams per kilogram per day. This the same rate at which a fetus grows in the last three months of pregnancy.
Are premature babies smarter?
Babies who are born before 37 weeks of pregnancy or who are very underweight when they are born may not do as well on intelligence tests as full-term infants. Researchers have found the when these babies are tested later in life, the preemies scored lower on intelligence tests.
In another study, researchers found that it’s not the size of the brain of a preemie that determines how intelligent the person will be. It’s how fast the brain grows after birth that predicts how intelligent the baby will be in later life.s
Researchers at King’s College London in the United Kingdom found very preterm babies have less grey matter in their brains, but when they grow older, certain areas in their brains become mature. The preemies seem to catch up with normal full-term babies as far as brain power is concerned.
Do premature babies grow up normal?
The early years of a premature baby may be very complicated. Since these babies are born before they are fully developed, they need a lot of special care. Due to their immaturity, they tend to have many health issues and delays in development, depending on how premature they were born.
However, while these babies have a difficult time in the beginning, they catch up with other babies by the time they reach the age of 3.
In fact, most preemies grow up to be healthy, normal kids.
Why do preemies look weird?
Premature babies look different from full-term babies. How different they look will depend on how early they were born. The earlier they were born, the bigger the difference. They look different from full-term babies because they are not fully developed.
A baby born at 36-37 weeks will look like full-term baby, just smaller. But a very premature baby, one born at 24 weeks will be even smaller, so small that it can fit into your hand.
This baby’s skin will seem see-through and he might not be able to open his eyes – they will still be fused shut.
A very premature baby will probably have very little hair on his head but a lot of soft hair all over his body.
Can premature babies live a normal life?
With modern medicine and new technologies, the overwhelming majority of premature babies now survive.
Some of them develop complications and suffer lifelong health problems while others thrive, grow to full adulthood and enjoy normal lives.
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