By Karli Steenkamp
Having a baby is an exciting journey, but can also be a fairly frightening one. Receiving the news that your baby might be born prematurely or suddenly going into early labour can be a shock. We are not in control of our bodies neither can we stop nature. Doctors can try their best to delay labour, but babies can be quite adamant about when they want to join the world. The most important thing for you to do is to stay calm. Qualified doctors and current medical advances have saved many premature babies over the years. In Australia, 1/10 babies are born prematurely. This guide will help assist you through premature childbirth and tell you almost everything you need to know, but it is important to remember that every baby is different and everyone’s experience will possibly be different as well.
When is a baby considered premature?
A premature baby is one that is born before 37 weeks. According to Raising Children, there are four levels of premature babies:
• Extremely premature 23 – 28 weeks
• Very premature 28 – 32 weeks
• Moderately premature 32 – 34 weeks
• Late preterm 34 – 37 weeks
Babies born before 32 weeks will be cared for in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) to help them breathe properly and grow stronger. Babies born over 32 weeks and a good weight will most likely be looked after in a Special Care Nursery (SCN). Because babies aren’t fully grown before 38 weeks there are a few areas where they will need to play catch up. In this special care unit babies will be cared for away from potential infection until they are better developed.
What to expect?
It can be very overwhelming to get used to your baby in a hospital with all the tubes and monitors. It is completely normal to feel sad, upset or even disappointed. This is not the idea you had in your mind for how you would be spending your baby’s first few weeks. Your baby is in the best hands. These doctors and nurses look after premature babies daily and even though it is new for you it is not for them.
Your baby will look very fragile while it is so little. The skin might be shiny and translucent and can appear dry and flaky. Their eyelids can be shut and they can have hair over their body called Lanugo. Babies this small can’t regulate their own temperature because that part of the brain is still developing. This underdeveloped part of the brain can also affect breathing and your babies’ heart rate. They will stay in hospital till they can do all these things on their own.
How old is your premature baby?
You have to calculate your baby’s correct age and that is not based on day your baby is born. Your baby’s womb development has stopped but that development will continue in an incubator. They will still need the ‘full pregnancy time’ to develop. Therefore it is important to take the age of the day your baby is born minus the time he or she was born prematurely. In other words, if your baby is eight months old but was born a month early, it will only be able to do what a baby of seven months will be able to do. You will only have to do this till your baby is a toddler then he or she should catch up to their peers.
What is next?
When your baby is developed, stronger and can function mostly without machines and tubes, you will be able to take your little one home. It can be overwhelming to hear the news because now your baby is your sole responsibility. Doctors would not have sent your baby home if they felt that you could not handle it. Doctors and nurses would have given you everything you need to look after your baby. You just need confidence in yourself. Whenever you are in doubt rather phone your doctor and confirm what is normal and what is not.
You will have to do regular health check-ups with doctors and paediatricians and nurses will also pay you visits. Ask as many questions as you want to ask to get the answers you need to feel secure in your ability to care for your little one.
Premature babies are at higher risk for developmental problems, language delays, learning difficulties or social and emotional problems. Some premature babies have no lasting effects, but some might need a little more help than others. Never compare your child to others, because he or she will develop at their own pace.
There are great products out there to assist in your premature journey. Nappy stockists have catered for premature babies’ needs so try a few brands and see what works for your baby. Premature baby clothes are easily found in major stores. Keep track of your babies’ milestones by making a treasure box or photo book of each milestone.
Having a premature baby is a rocky but very worthwhile journey. Hang in there and know that many babies have pulled through being born early and lead completely normal lives. Try and enjoy every moment with your bundle of joy and remember to celebrate the small things. Make sure you have a support network and that you look after yourself and your relationship during this time as well.
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