Why are some babies born prematurely?

There are certain factors that may increase an individual's likelihood of having a premature baby. These include a previous obstetric history of prematurity of either themselves or a mother or sister; illness during pregnancy; the state of a mother's health prior to pregnancy; having a multiple pregnancy; smoking; and fetal problems, such as reduced growth, which may be due to lifestyle factors such as smoking and other fetal disorders. Most premature babies are placed in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), where they will receive special medical care and attention until they are well enough to go home.

Caring for premature babies:

A baby born before 37 weeks of pregnancy may need additional support with breathing and temperature control in a neonatal intensive care unit.

How to cope Staying focused while your baby is in the hospital

If your baby has to spend a substantial amount of time in a NICU, it can be very hard to cope emotionally. There are steps you can take to help you through this difficult time.

  • Spend as much time as possible with your baby in the unit and get involved in his care whenever possible.

  • If your baby's stay is prolonged, try not to feel guilty about spending time at home away from him. Instead, use this time to rest and reserve your energy for your baby.

  • Keep reminding yourself that your baby is receiving the best possible care.

Bonding with your special care baby

Having a baby in a neonatal intensive care unit can be an extremely anxious time and, apart from his physical development, you may be concerned about how you will bond with your baby. However, the staff will encourage you to be as involved as possible in your baby's care and will give you plenty of chance to have contact. Touching, cuddling, and talking to your baby can be a real comfort for both you and your baby. The need to touch and be touched is a primal instinct and has been shown to play a significant role in the development of your baby. Research shows that babies gain weight more quickly, cry less, breast-feed more successfully, and are discharged earlier when continued close contact is maintained between the baby and parents.

Holding your baby close:

Once your baby is big enough to be removed from an incubator, holding him close to your body is incredibly beneficial for both of you, providing reassurance and warmth.

How long will my baby stay in the hospital? Your baby's stay in the neonatal care unit

How long each baby stays in the NICU will depend on why he was there: some babies just need a few hours' observation; other babies need to stay until the time they would have been full term in the womb. Certain criteria govern when babies return home:

  • When they are able to feed properly with either breast or formula milk.

  • When they have gained weight and weigh a minimum of 5lb (2.2 kg).

  • When they can control their own body temperature.


Amazing advances in recent years in the care of premature babies has ensured the survival of some of the tiniest babies

Neonatal intensive care unit Caring for your premature baby

Some babies need special care when they are born. A neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) is a special ward in a hospital where these babies go if they need more care. There are specially trained nurses and doctors (neonatologists) in the unit to care for your baby. If you know that your baby will need to go to a NICU while you are still pregnant, you can ask for a tour of the unit and to meet the staff nurses and doctors. If your baby is very ill, he may need to move to a neonatal intensive care unit.

Q: Why do some babies need special care?
A: Sometimes a baby needs special care because he has been born early (preterm) and may need help to breathe and stay warm. Babies who are small for their dates may also require special care. Other babies may have an infection, be jaundiced, or have a congenital abnormality and therefore require special care.
Q: What will happen in the NICU?
A: Your baby may be put in an incubator with monitors attached. This controls the temperature and keeps your baby warm. If your baby needs help with breathing, he will also receive oxygen through a special ventilator in the incubator. Some of the equipment looks very frightening, but the staff will be happy to explain what is going on, as they are eager for you to be involved in your baby's care; they can also help you to breast-feed or pump milk. If your baby is admitted unexpectedly, you will be given a photo of him, since you may be recovering from a cesarean, making it difficult for you to visit your baby during the first day. If this is the case, ask the nursing staff to take you to your baby as soon as you are able. NICU staff love having the baby's family to visit, although they may have strict rules regarding visiting—so ask what the policies are in your unit.
Contact with your baby:

Even while your baby is in an incubator, there are plenty of ways to stimulate him and communicate. Being close to your baby will help you cope too.

Loving care:

You will be encouraged to care for your baby in the neonatal unit, and babies needing special care have been shown to thrive from the loving touch and attention of their parents.

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