If it’s your first time having to care for a premature baby, you’re not alone. According to the World Health Organisation, 15 million babies are born preterm (before 37 completed weeks of gestation). Special care needs to be taken when caring for your premature baby to prevent complications. Knowing the right way to take care of your baby makes all the difference. In one study, when parents understood their baby’s stressors and cues and were able to intervene to decrease stressors, “their babies’ brains showed improved cerebral white matter micro-structural development.” Translation: improved brain development, a major key in raising a well-rounded child.
Here are the most important things to keep in mind when you’re taking care of your premature baby.
Prioritise skin-to-skin contact
Skin-to-skin contact can have profound effects on a developing child. Not only does it deepen the bond between the parent and child, it can speed up the development of your baby’s brain function, per a study of eight weeks with mothers and preterm infants. Sr Lilo Mthembu, an independant midwife in private practice, echoes this view. “Skin to skin kangaroo care is advisable until they are at least gaining weight well,” she says.
READ MORE: The Postpartum Survival Guide For New Moms
Keep an eye on their breathing
“Babies forget to breathe sometimes,” says Sr Mthembu. Look out for pauses in breathing, snoring, mouth breathing and snorting, coughing or choking; these are signs of apnea, or breathing difficulties. Apneic breathing should not be longer than 20 seconds, says Sr Mthembu. Apnea can affect your baby’s growth, so watch out for the signs and see a doctor if they persist.
Keep your premature baby warm
“Keep them warm always as they are unable to generate their own heat,” says Sr Mthembu. Skin-to-skin contact goes a long way, as do blankets. Once they are gaining weight, generating body heat will come, too. “Do not open windows in the room the baby is in and avoid drafts and radiation,” advises Sr Mthembu. If you see sweat on your baby’s forehead, it’s likely too warm. Use a thermometer and make sure the temperature is the ideal 36.5, but not warmer than 37.5 degrees Celcius.
Feeding your preterm baby
Premature babies use a lot of energy to breastfeed, so it’s not advisable at this stage, says Sr Mthembu. “Rather use a spoon, syringe or cup feed. No bottle-feeding until they are at least two kilograms,” she iterates. When it comes to the amounts for feeding, refer to your doctor, who’ll be able to advise you based on the weight and condition of the baby.
Keep your baby isolated
Preterm babies are immunocompromised; meaning they haven’t built up enough immunity to fight off infections from the natural environment. For this reason, you should keep them away from people. Until your child is given the go-ahead by the doctor, keep your circle small and have no-one around who is sick.
Have a support team
Recruit your family to help care for your baby. Watching over a premature baby can be daunting and stressful. In order for you to give your child the best care, experts recommend having knowledgeable people in your corner you can turn to. Don’t be afraid to pepper your doctor and nurses with questions as you navigate this time; the more support you have, the better off your child will be.