I have newborn care almost down to a science. My husband and I know how to split up tasks, how best to complete them, and what newborn essentials are must-haves. After having five babies, taking care of newborns has become natural for both of us.
Recently though, I’ve learned a whole new dimension of baby care: preemies.
While I knew caring for preemies would be somewhat more different than full-term newborns, I was surprised with the amount of adjustments I needed to make to my tried and true routines.
Though preemies may just look like small newborns, their care (and the foresight needed to give that care) is quite different. From understanding preemie development to protecting and planning for life with preemies there’s lots to learn in the world of these tiny humans.
Planning with Preemies
Planning the days (and weeks) after a preemie’s birth can be tricky.
Many preemies will spend some time in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) and a general rule of thumb is to plan for a stay until baby would have been considered full-term. So, if your preemie was born at 33 weeks, you can tentatively plan for a four to seven week NICU stay.
While a long stay may seem disheartening, it’s only an estimate. There are a lot of factors that come into play with NICU stays and it varies with each preemie.
It’s important to remember that preemies aren’t supposed to be here yet and may not yet be ready for basic life skills, like maintaining body temperature. While there will be huge gains made in the early days, you’ll likely have setbacks too.
Take heart and give your little one some grace. There’s a lot to learn when you’re a preemie.
While preemies may look like the perfect baby doll, it’s important to remember that they are still underdeveloped.
Preemies will need time to develop and practice new skills such as breathing, eating, and the combination of skills (breathing while eating). The key to learning this skill set is the acquisition of a suck-swallow-breathe pattern to feedings. Learning to consistently remember this routine will be a milestone moment for your little one.
Life can be hard outside of the womb. As mentioned above, preemies need to work on regulating their body temperature and, once home from the hospital, it continues to be important to look for signs that your preemie is too cold or hot. Helping preemies keep warm enough (but not too warm) means they are not burning calories they need to grow.
Learning new skills and working to eat, breath, and even poop are exhausting for preemies. Preemies will sleep a majority of the day, and this is a good thing. The more preemies sleep, the less energy they burn fussing, and the more weight they gain.
In the early days you’ll rarely see awake time from preemies. You will, however, be waking your preemie for feedings, working to help him take a full feeding, and recording how much your preemie has eaten.
While sleeping through feedings won’t be an option for your preemie, falling quickly into dreamland afterwards is a best case scenario. Sleeping time equals growing time for your little one.
You’ll find that preemies need a bit more protection than typical newborns.
With an underdeveloped immune system, germs are a major risk for your preemie. Develop a system when you get home for asking visitors to disinfect their hands. Placing hand sanitizer around the house or signs asking guests to wash their hands will help control germs. (Download our FREE printable hospital door sign here).
As a parent, you get to decide the rules. It’s okay to ask guests to take shoes off, wash up, and ask before holding your baby.
In addition, you may need to teach friends and family how to hold your preemie. While it’s nice to snuggle up with a newborn in the crook of your arm, this can be a problem for preemies with underdeveloped airways. You’ll want to show guests how to hold your preemie so his nose is up and his chin isn’t resting towards his chest.
While there can be some extra challenges with preemies, the addition of a family member is a time to celebrate. Sit back and enjoy the ride; your baby is changing and growing right before your eyes.
Jess Wartinger resides in rural New York with her husband and five children. Formerly an early elementary teacher, Jess currently spends her time loving her kids and holding down the fort at home.