Premature babies are born more than 5 to 8 weeks early (after less than 32-35 weeks of pregnancy). The earlier a baby is born, the more health problems the baby is likely to have. Premature babies may need to be cared for in the hospital until close to their due dates.
The cause of premature birth is often not known. Sometimes a baby may need to be delivered early if you or your baby have a medical problem. It is common for twins or other multiple births to be born early.
Because your baby is small and born early, she will be cared for in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) or Intensive Care Nursery (ICN) for a few days or several weeks. Many specialists will help care for your baby during her stay in the NICU.
Visit your baby as much as you can. Your presence helps your baby grow and get strong. Sometimes the baby is so sick at first that you may not be able to hold her until she is better. You can still hold your baby’s hand, touch, and talk to her. The older and more mature your baby is, the more you will be able to handle and care for her.
In the NICU, your baby will be in a special bed that keeps her warm by heating the air. She will be attached to a heart and breathing monitor while in the NICU. The monitor sounds an alarm if there is a big change in your baby's heart rate, breathing rate, or level of oxygen.
There are many problems that a preterm baby faces during the first weeks. Most problems of prematurity improve as your baby grows.
If you need to have special equipment at home, the hospital will help you arrange for it. They will teach you how to care for your baby at home. Once home, your baby will need frequent feedings.
Most very premature babies grow up to be normal, healthy children. However, low-birth-weight babies are at greater risk for problems with learning, growth, or behavior than babies who are not premature. Physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech and swallow therapy and other programs may help to lessen the risk of problems. Premature babies also may need special medical care during the first year of life.
Try not to be overprotective. You will see your baby quickly grow and get healthy and strong.