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Caring for your premature baby

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Caring for a premature baby, newborn baby, pregnancy, birth
Becoming a parent can be one of the biggest changes people experience and if your baby comes earlier than expected, there can be even more uncertainty for new parents.

Here, we answer some of the most common questions of parents with a premature baby, so you can feel confident in caring for your child from day one.

How do I clothe my premature baby?

One of the challenges that comes with premature babies often being small is finding clothing that can fit them, and actually dressing them in the first place. 'Handling and dressing a very small baby might feel daunting at first, so it's a good idea to practice this with the support of the staff at your neonatal unit before you go home,' explains Zoë Chivers from Bliss, the UK's leading charity for babies born premature or sick.

'In terms of finding clothes for your baby, many high street baby shops will stock ranges for premature babies, and you can also buy smaller nappies too.'

I'm worried about my baby catching a cold, or other illnesses. What should I do?

'Premature babies are more vulnerable to common coughs and colds than other babies, as their immune systems are less mature. While your baby is in the neonatal unit, there are many procedures to reduce their chance of infection, and it's important some of these continue once you take your baby home,' says Zoë.

'Washing your hands frequently, and making sure toys and highchairs are cleaned regularly will help to reduce this risk. Also remember that it is not rude to ask people who are ill to stay away from your baby until they are better. If you are ever worried about your baby's health, always seek medical advice.'

How do I know if my baby is too hot or too cold?

'Premature babies find it harder to maintain their body temperature than those born full term. Make sure you check your baby's temperature regularly and that you've got a nursery thermometer. The room should be between 18 and 21°C or 97.7-98.7°F,' Zoë advises.

As always, if your baby's temperature changes seem significant enough to cause concern, you should seek medical advice.

How do I make sure my premature baby sleeps safely?

Zoë says, 'As with all babies, it's important to make sure premature babies sleep as safely as possible, especially in the first few weeks at home. They'll be experiencing a lot of new noises, smells and colours and may need reassuring before sleeping. The Lullaby Trust have lots of tips for safer baby sleep which can help, in turn, to reassure you.'

How should I feed my premature baby?

Slightly premature babies don't necessarily need any special food to help them catch up, but those who were very premature may be given a mixture of nutrients via a tube in their leg until their tummies are developed enough to be able to cope with milk.

Research shows that a technique called 'kangaroo holding' helps premature babies gain weight. It involves snuggling the baby inside mum, or dad's, shirt as if in a kangaroo pouch. Some experts believe that the warmth, smell, breathing and heartbeat of a parent can help them thrive. In some cases, when a premature baby isn't gaining weight fast enough, the doctor may suggest giving him a special premature baby formula or adding special supplements to his usual milk.

I feel overwhelmed - who can help me?

'Looking after yourself can really help you care for your premature baby,' Zoë confirms. 'Simple things, like trying to get as much sleep as you can and eating regular meals, can help give you the energy to look after your little one. It can also be exhausting returning home after your baby has spent the last few weeks and months in hospital, and you might be feeling emotional and overwhelmed.'

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If you have a premature baby and feel like you need support, Bliss provides information and guidance to anyone whose baby has arrived earlier than expected. Visit bliss.org.uk for more information.

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