Babies who are born preterm will likely need special care from when you bring them home from the hospital and during their first 2 years. This is especially true if they weigh less than 2kg when they’re born. Here’s some advice on how to care for preterm babies:
1. Make an appointment to take your baby to the doctor soon after he or she leaves the hospital.
Your doctor will check your baby to confirm that he or she is gaining weight and discuss how your baby is doing at home.
2. Talk with your doctor about feeding your baby.
Breast milk is the best baby food but if your baby is having trouble nursing, your doctor may be able to help you solve this problem by referring you to a lactation consultant. Also, most preterm babies need 8 to 10 feedings a day. Don’t wait longer than 4 hours between feedings or your baby may get dehydrated (not getting enough fluids).
3. Monitor your baby’s growth.
Preterm babies may not grow at the same rate as a full-term baby for the first 2 years so they’re usually smaller during this time. Sometimes they grow in spurts, but they usually catch up with full-term babies in time. It’s important to keep track of your baby’s milestones. This would include things like activity level, sitting up, and crawling.
4. Don’t be in a hurry to switch to solid food.
Most doctors advise giving a preterm baby solid food at 4 to 6 months after the baby’s original due date (not the birth date). Preterm babies aren’t as developed at birth as full-term babies so it may take them longer to develop their swallowing ability.
5. Give your baby plenty of opportunity for sleep.
Although preterm babies sleep more hours each day than full-term babies, they sleep for shorter periods of time. All babies should be put to bed on their backs, not on their stomachs. Sleeping on the stomach or on a soft mattress may increase your baby’s risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
6. Pay attention to your baby’s vision & hearing
Crossed eyes are more common in preterm babies than in full-term babies but this problem usually goes away on its own. Some preterm babies have an eye disease called retinopathy of prematurity (ROP). If there’s a chance your baby has ROP, your doctor will advise regular checkups and treatment.
7. Check your baby’s hearing.
Preterm babies are also more likely than full-term babies to have hearing problems. If you notice your baby doesn’t seem to hear you, tell your doctor.
You can check your baby’s hearing by making noises behind or to the side of the baby. If your baby doesn’t turn his or her head or react to loud noises, tell your doctor.
Bonus: get your baby’s immunizations (on time)
Immunizations are given to preterm babies at the same ages they are given to full-term babies so be sure to keep to the schedule.