Did you know that an estimated 15 million babies around the world are born premature each year and that more than one million of them do not survive their early birth? Premature birth is the leading cause of death in children under the age of five worldwide. That’s a staggering number to contemplate. Even though the United States has seen sustained improvement in its preterm birth survival rate, it has one of the highest rates of preterm birth of any industrialized country. November marks Prematurity Awareness Month and I want to provide you with some important information and tips on how to care for a premature infant.
Babies born too early often have more health issues than babies born on time, and may face long-term health problems that affect the brain, the lungs, hearing or vision. The first few weeks at home with a preemie can be especially trying, whether your baby was born at 26 or 36 weeks. Healthy Mom&Baby illustrates four tips that every parent should in keep in mind:
- Keep your baby warm. - Your born-too-early baby lacks enough fat under her skin to keep herself warm unless she is sufficiently swaddled. Don’t crank up the thermostat to 80º F (after all, Eskimos have babies, too). Instead, wrap your baby in layers, such as a body suit, followed by another layer, and perhaps a blanket, depending on how cool you keep your house. Wise parents wrap their babies in more than one layer for easy adjustments if the baby gets too warm or feels too cool.
- Feeding frenzy? Your preemie baby needs to eat every 2 to 4 hours to gain weight consistently. Do NOT let the baby sleep for more than 4 hours at one time during the first few weeks. After that check with your healthcare provider to learn when it’s OK to let her sleep longer than 4 hours at a time.
- Breast feeding for a preemie. Avoid fasting during the night to keep your blood sugar from dropping too low. Set up a breastfeeding station for nights. Before turning in, arrange a plate of wholesome snacks and a pitcher of juice and/or water at your station. You don’t need to drink milk to make milk. The idea is to get yourself into a routine feed both you and your baby at the same time.
- Keep your infant in germ-free areas. Preemies have reduced resistance to germs, viruses, and bacteria in their world – they’re immunosuppressed. It may take up to two years to fully gain immunity to the world we live in.
If you are wondering how you can make sure your infant’s living area is clean for the next two years, here is how:
- Wash your hands before and after every diaper change
- Limit visitors and absolutely no visits from anyone who is sick
- Play the ‘NICU card’ for doctor’s appointment times (schedule for early or latest in the day)
- Keep up with routine vaccinations (talk with your healthcare provider about flu vaccinations for both you and the baby )
- DO NOT ALLOW SMOKING anywhere around your baby
By incorporating these premature baby tips, you can help ensure the safety of your baby. Furthermore, please join me in spreading awareness of the prematurity health crisis on November 17th for World Prematurity Awareness Day. You can do this by changing your profile pictures to World Prematurity Day on Facebook and Twitter and posting to social media with #givethemtomorrow and #worldprematurityday. Together we can increase awareness worldwide. For more tips on taking care of your premature baby, please visit health4mom.org.