How to care for a premature baby



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Premature babies (those born before 37 weeks)
often start their lives with serious medical
challenges resulting in weeks (or months!) of
ongoing care in the hospital’s neonatal intensive
care unit (NICU). Preemie parents often find
themselves counting down the days to when
they will swap hospital quarters for the comforts
of home and some long-awaited bonding time.

For many preemies, special medical needs
will persist well after discharge – and some
cognitive issues may continue into the school
years as well. Fortunately, with the right care
and network in place, parents can ensure their
preemies still experience a robust childhood.

Develop an action plan

Kirsten Meyer and
Ian Silver, from Kingston, Ont., say the sheer
volume of care that persisted after they brought
their daughter home from the NICU shocked
them. Natasha (born at 26 weeks) was diagnosed
with chronic lung disease and needed ongoing
respiratory care at home. There
were up to four appointments a
week with the ophthalmologist,
physiotherapist, occupational
therapist, audio/verbal therapist
and pediatrician. Kirsten says
a good scheduling system
was essential. “We also had a
treatment meeting with her care
providers to figure out common
goals.”

Heather Rambukkana, of
Whitby, Ont., says it’s also
important to be your preemie’s
advocate. “When you have so
many professionals following
your child, you can get
contradictory information. I
know my son best and if I don’t
get the answer that I think is right
for us, I seek a second opinion.”

Be an anti-germ crusader

“We would prefer to be isolated
and hurt a few feelings than put
our daughter at risk,” says Ian,
who insists all visitors to the
house have a flu shot and use a
hand sanitizer at the front door.
Dr. Paige Church, director of
the Neonatal Follow Up Clinic
at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health
Sciences Centre, agrees. “Keeping
your babies well will give them
strength and more opportunity
for learning. Readmission to the hospital is just time that is wasted
and could be life-threatening.”

Join a network

Dr. Church
says feeling anxious about your
preemie is normal, so don’t
hide it. “I worry more about the
parents who don’t say anything,”
she says. “Share your concerns
with your healthcare providers
and others so they can help you
work through it.”

Kirsten keeps in touch with
parents of preemies she met at the
hospital and others on Facebook.
She says, “We still see our old
friends but it seems more relaxed
when you’re with parents of other
preemies. If Natasha’s throwing
up because of reflux, they won’t
be fazed.”

Find some ‘me’ time

There’s
no guilt in wanting some personal
time away from your baby. In fact,
many parents of preemies say it
helps them cope with the difficult
days. Heather says, “One of my
stress releasers is going for a run.
I make that time for myself every
day to get out and clear my head
no matter what – even if it means
he naps in the running stroller.”

Concerns for
premature
babies

RSV: Respiratory
syncytial virus (RSV) is a
common cause of upper
respiratory infections in
infants and children, but
for a preemie it’s a major
health concern. RSV is
considered the number
one cause of sickness
and re-hospitalization
among premature
infants. Symptoms
include difficult or
rapid breathing, sleep
apnea and cyanosis (a
bluish tint to the skin).
For those considered
high risk – like micropreemies
born at
28 weeks or less – a
monthly RSV vaccine
during fall and winter is
recommended.

Acid reflux: All
babies spit up, but
for preemies with
underdeveloped core
muscles or chronic
lung disease, it can
cause issues with
feeding and weight
gain. While most
pre-term children will
outgrow the condition
within the first year,
others with severe
symptoms (such as
projectile vomiting or
spit-up that is yellow
or green), may require
medication.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, May/June 2013.

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