Bringing home a new, premature, baby can be a very scary experience for new parents. After weeks and sometimes months in NICU, who would know all the factors that go into after-care for your precious tiny preemie?
Registered Nurse, Terry Sauer, RN, has spent her career surrounded by premature infants. As the manager of the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Deaconess Billings Clinic in Billings, Montana, she cares for several babies at a time, each facing an uncertain future.
Lifesaving technology has improved dramatically in the years since Sauer first stepped into a NICU, but one thing has remained constant: Today’s parents are just as worried as ever. Preparing parents is a large part of Sauer’s job. Before any baby goes home, Sauer gives moms and dads the information and the confidence, they’ll need for the work ahead.
If a premature baby (born before 37 weeks of pregnancy) has just joined your family, you’re not alone, about 13 percent of babies are born early. The coming months will be filled with challenges and uncertainty, but remember that every child is different. Only your doctor or nurse can say what type of care your baby needs, and nobody can say for sure how your baby will respond. All you can do is your best.
Here are some important things to keep in mind as you care for your new baby:
How old is your baby?
A premature baby who is three months old is not developmentally the same as a full-term baby who is three months old. As you watch your baby grow, it’s helpful to keep in mind their “gestational age” (the number of weeks since they were conceived) and adjusted age (their age minus the amount of prematurity).
A full-term baby is 40 weeks old at birth. When that full-term baby is one month old he or she will have the same gestational age as a four-month-old preemie who was born three months prematurely. Even though the preemie has been out of the womb longer, both babies have a gestational age of 44 weeks and the preemie will have an adjusted age of one month.
Gestational age is most useful when talking about babies younger than 40 weeks. After that, it’s more common to refer to adjusted age.
Interacting in the NICU
Hospitals will keep premature infants in the NICU until they’re stable enough to take home, usually at 36 to 38 weeks gestational age. Depending on how early your baby arrived, you’re likely to be spending a lot of time in the NICU.
Preemies are often very thin and their skin may seem transparent, with red blood vessels visible because there’s not much fat under the skin. At first, it can be very scary to see your tiny baby in an incubator hooked up to an oxygen supply, intravenous lines for food or medicine, or monitors to check heart rate and breathing.
Even though you might feel helpless when there are so many machines and barriers between you and your baby, remember that