Expecting mothers want the very best for their new baby. They never expect to experience premature birth and the stress that goes along with it. A new mom and dad will be best equipped to handle challenges ahead when they have answers to all of their questions about premature birth. We put together common questions that moms may ask during such an uncertain situation.
Can Premature Birth Be Prevented?
Premature birth means that your baby is born earlier than 37 weeks. Unfortunately, the cause of premature birth is unknown, but there are some risk factors that can make premature birth more likely. Premature birth is likelier to happen when a mom is smoking, drinking alcohol, doing drugs, having more than one baby, or has a health condition such as diabetes or an infection. Additionally, the likelihood increases if the mother is expecting before the age of 19 or after the age of 40. The best way to prevent premature birth is to engage in healthy habits with nutrition, exercise, and following your doctor’s recommendations. Unfortunately, premature birth can happen even when a mom has no risk factors. Although it is normal to feel intense emotions about premature birth, it is important to remember that some things are out of your control and that you will do the best that you can.
How Does Premature Birth Affect My Baby?
Babies who are born too early have an increased risk for short and long-term complications. Understand that every premature child will be different. Your child’s condition will often depend on how early the child is born and if they are sick. A premature birth can cause short-term complications such as breathing issues, anemia, heart problems, issues with the immune system, and jaundice. Jaundice is a treatable condition where the skin or eye whites turn yellow due to the heavy breakdown of red blood cells. In terms of long-term conditions, premature babies are at a higher risk for hearing/vision problems, delays in physical development, learning problems, cerebral palsy, and long-term respiratory issues. Reaching milestones will look a little different for your baby as well. You can learn more about how to track premature baby milestones here.
What is the NICU?
If you know about premature babies, you have likely heard the term NICU, which stands for Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. There are different levels of care depending on your child’s needs and situation. The NICU is set up to provide for your baby’s needs in a low-stress environment. Doctors and nurses will be able to provide protection, warmth, and proper nutrition to help your baby develop in the best way possible. In the unit, you may notice monitors to check vital signs and incubators to control your baby’s body temperature. In some cases, babies will need what is called transitional care where the mom and baby will be able to stay together under hospital guidance and care.
How Can I Bond With My Premature Baby in the NICU?
If you are unable to be with your baby in transitional care, you may be concerned about how you can bond with your baby in the NICU. The good news is that you definitely can still let your little one know that you are there and that you care. Premature babies that are healthy enough and old enough can be held. You may also be able to engage in kangaroo care. For other premature babies where holding is too much, you may be able to hold their hand or stroke their head. In other cases, touch may not be advised at all. This is not to discourage you from visiting your baby. You can still softly talk and sing to your baby. Your presence means more than you might think. Check in with your doctors and nurses. They will be able to tell you what kind of touch is best. You can also ask about the best ways to bond with your premature infant, and they can tell you about the best times to visit.
How Can I Manage My Stress Levels?
There is no doubt that premature birth is incredibly stressful. An extended stay at the hospital for your baby is absolutely heartbreaking. It’s more important than ever to also pay attention to your needs to make sure you are well-rested and can face the challenges that may lie ahead. Engage in hobbies that you truly enjoy doing on your own and some that you enjoy doing with the family. Don’t be afraid to lean on your support system. Be sure to talk about your feelings with those you love even if it feels a little awkward. Being social can help ease the stress that you might be experiencing. Celebrate every small win with your premature baby and the family as a whole. A little celebration can make this stressful situation seem just a little brighter.
Will My Baby Need Physical Therapy?
Premature babies will need physical therapy to ensure healthy growth. Sooner is always better than later with premature birth. When kids arrive earlier than expected, they have less time to develop their muscles. Their weaker muscles and lower muscle tone will make it harder for a premature baby to meet milestones. A physical therapist will be able to ensure that your child is developing optimally. If you are in need of a pediatric physical therapist, we are here to help.