Five Tips for Caring for a Premature Baby at Home
The transition from hospital to home can be worrisome for new parents, as a premature baby requires special, undivided care and attention. /Representative image |
Babies born before 37 weeks are called premature or premature babies. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 15 million babies are born prematurely each year and this number continues to rise.
Since premature babies are born before their expected time, some of their internal organs may not be fully developed, making them more vulnerable. Therefore, premature babies spend a few days in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) before parents are allowed to take them home.
The transition from hospital to home can be worrisome for new parents, as a premature baby requires special, undivided care and attention. But parents should be happy that their premature baby is finally stable enough to be moved from the hospital to the comfort of home. By religiously following doctors’ instructions and keeping some essential tips in mind, parents can cure their premature baby.
Feed the baby properly
Ideally, breast milk is the best nutrition. But premature babies have greater nutritional needs, so feeding a premature baby is a fusion of breastfeeding with supplements and expressed breast milk with fortifiers. Thus, caregivers should be familiar with feeding techniques (paladai, spoon feeding, tube feeding), avoiding spillage leading to better growth and development.
A premature baby needs 8 to 10 feedings a day and at intervals of no more than four hours. Understanding the cues given by the baby is important both for the start and the end of feeding, for having adequate nutrition and avoiding overfeeding. Don’t forget to burp the baby after each feed.
Maintaining the ideal temperature
While in the hospital or NICU, doctors take care of the premature baby’s body and ambient temperature. Maintaining body temperature is of paramount importance for the growth of the baby because the energy consumed should not be used to maintain body temperature.
Once home, parents should pay particular attention to maintaining the ideal room temperature, which is 20 to 23 degrees Celsius. Likewise, the baby’s body or axillary temperature should be between 36.5 and 37.0 degrees Celsius. Proper layering should be done. The baby’s temperature should be assessed by comparing the hands and feet with the abdominal temperature. Try to avoid overheating as well as low temperatures. If in doubt, try skin-to-skin contact for better temperature regulation.
Practice kangaroo care
Kangaroo mother care, now better because kangaroo family care is an essential modality of care for premature babies. Caregivers should learn it in the hospital and once at home, practice it regularly with their premature baby. Kangaroo care is a special method of holding the baby close to your chest to make skin-to-skin contact.
Moms, dads, and other caregivers can practice it in a warm room by dressing the baby in a diaper, cap, and open-front shirt and placing it on their chest at the inside her dress or by putting a cloth over it, until baby is comfortable. Practicing skin-to-skin contact with the toddler can strengthen bonds, promote breastfeeding, stabilize baby’s heart and breathing rate, better temperature regulation, faster weight gain, save sleep time , better development, and parents have increased confidence and sense of control.
Help baby sleep accurately
During the first few months, parents should pay close attention to their premature baby’s sleeping needs and habits. sleep is essential for brain development and optimizing physical growth. It is completely normal for the premature baby to sleep all day and parents should ensure an optimal temperature, dim lighting and absence of noise in the room. Sleep baby on your back, never on your stomach or on your side, with your head and face uncovered. Wrapping and swaddling have proven benefits. In addition, parents should ensure that the baby sleeps on a firm mattress without extra pillows or blankets that could suffocate him, preferably on a separate bed. Skin-to-skin sessions also promote sleep.
Avoid visitors and public places
The premature baby’s immunity is very low and has a higher risk of catching infections and diseases. It is advisable to limit the number of visitors to your home during the first crucial weeks, especially anyone who is sick. Do not allow smoking inside your home or near the baby. All visitors should wash their hands thoroughly before holding or touching the premature baby. Too many visitors can also overstimulate toddlers, as premature babies are very sensitive to sound and touch and tire easily. Additionally, you should also avoid visiting public or crowded places, lest baby be exposed to unwanted infections or smoke.
A premature baby’s journey is a roller coaster ride, especially for parents. So the transition from hospital to home and from a premature baby to a mature, stronger baby can be challenging and tiring. But regular check-ups with doctors, following all necessary recommendations, and devoting extra care and time to the youngster can help new parents and newborns find stability and security. Prematurity should not be seen as an embarrassment but rather as a blessing to welcome your little one earlier.
(Dr. Vivek Choudhury, MBBS, MD (Paed), DNB (Neon), Neonatology and Pediatrics, Apollo Cradle & Children’s Hospital– New Delhi)
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