A premature baby is one born before 37 weeks of gestation. Many factors, such as a pregnancy with multiples, pre-eclampsia in the mother, drug or alcohol abuse as well as several others may increase the risk of a premature birth, but a preterm delivery can happen to any pregnant woman. Through regular prenatal medical care, your doctor will assess your pregnancy to determine if you are potentially at risk, and since caring for your child begins in utero, it's important to be informed and prepared. Do your research, ask questions and follow your health care provider's recommendations for a healthy pregnancy. Every extra day in utero is beneficial to a preemie baby, and depending on the situation, your doctor may prescribe medication to treat any conditions affecting your pregnancy, order bed rest and closely monitor the pregnancy through blood tests and ultrasounds to delay delivery if possible.
A premature infant may have special medical needs, so it's likely your premature baby will be whisked off to the neonatal intensive care unit — or NICU — shortly after delivery. Initially this might be frightening to a new mom, who wants to spend time with her precious newborn, but according to americanpregnancy.org, this intensive care unit is equipped with up-to-date technology, such as monitoring systems and incubators, and is staffed around the clock by specialized physicians and nurses who will offer the infant the best possible care. To provide proper care, the NICU may have certain restrictions but will welcome and encourage parents to be active in caring for their new baby. Every situation is unique, so ask the NICU nurses what you can do to help.
To nurse or bottle-feed is a personal choice, but breast milk is an excellent source of nutrition and calories for you preemie baby. According to babycenter.com, a mother's milk will naturally accommodate the needs of a preterm infant and be enhanced with more vitamins and proteins. A newborn preemie may not be able to feed right off the breast but can be fed expressed milk through a nasogastric tube.
The benefits of kangaroo care have been well documented. This is the practice of a parent holding a newborn — usually a preemie — skin-to-skin for periods throughout the day. According to midwiferytoday.com, there are many benefits to the infant, such as an escalation in growth, faster brain development and regulation of body temperature.
After days, weeks or even months in NICU, your preemie is ready to come home. Until now, the staff of the NICU has been responsible for the care of your little bundle of joy, and now it's your turn to take over. Take all the information you've learned from the nurses, and incorporate it into your real life. Many hospitals will have booklets and videos regarding home care of a preemie as well as offer support groups, which are an invaluable source of information. Use any of the resources you feel you need, and relax — your tiny miracle wouldn't have been released unless he or she was ready.
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