6 things you only know if you've had a premature baby
Premature birth makes up between 7 and 8 percent of births. This is a significant proportion, and every day many young parents have a premature child. On the other hand, most babies are born at, or close to, full term, and (fortunately) many parents will never know the trials of a premature birth. For both sets of parents, here is a list of six things you only come to know if you have a premature baby.
1. It's not clear when you can take your baby home
An infant born prematurely throws all your birthing plans out the window. Your partner will not be allowed to cut the umbilical cord, your baby will not be placed immediately upon your chest, you will not sleep in the same room in the hospital and, worst of all, you do not know when you can take your baby home safe and sound. You will only take them home when they are stable and strong.
Further reading: What you should or shouldn't say to the parents of a premature child
2. Babys have to meet many requirements before they can go home
Children have certain criteria before they are allowed to leave the hospital; a healthy weight, whether they can control their own body temperature, whether their bodily functions are working correctly, and when they go 48 hours without any 'incidents'.
3. Premature babies have two ages, corrected age on birth and corrected age
The development of a premature child is different and must be monitored more closely than usual; at least until the second year, and sometimes until the fourth year, growth and development records need to be corrected, taking into account the number of weeks early the child was born. Standard growth curve patterns and Van Wiechen schemes for development need to be adjusted. Premature children may grow at different rates, and occassionally need exogenous growth hormones to assist their development.
For example: a child who is 18 weeks old but was born after 30 weeks of pregnancy (ten weeks early) has a corrected age of 8 weeks (18 weeks minus the 10 early weeks). When the growth and development of this child is recorded, the baby is usually fine if the patterns correspond with a standard 8 week old baby. In short, a child born 10 weeks early may have a delay of 10 weeks in their development. This corrected age is, in principle, applied until the child is two years of age. If the baby was even more premature, this may be applied for a longer period of time. They should, in theory, reach the milestones of the Van Wiechen development schedule when the corrected age is used.
4. The phrase 'He/she should not be here yet'
Because premature children generally function according to their corrected age, rather than their birth age, it is common that they cannot do many things that babies of similar uncorrected age can do. When you are worried about this, you are often told they they should not be here yet. That's why your baby cannot sit on their own yet, or crawl yet, or they are still sleeping all day, the answer from the professionals, and something you should always keep in mind, is that it's because they shouldn't even be here yet!
5. Premature babies use their energy in different ways from full-term babies
If babies are tiny, they need the majority of their energy just to keep a steady temperature. Occasionally, when the baby's temperature drops too low, it will stop feeding until the temperature rises again. This sounds counterintuitive to parents; 'surely babies need to eat to grow, right?!'. While that's true, if the child's temperature drops too low all the milk will be used to raise its heat levels again, rather than any nutrients being absorbed. Fortunately, while in hospital, the professional and caring staff are there to assist parents during difficult moments like this.
6. Feeding and flasks are a daily task for mothers of premature children
Breastfeeding a very premature baby is a very difficult task. Milk must be expressed and it's important that every drop is collected. Premature babies need a different type of breastmilk than full-term babies; fortunately your body will produce this and more is better. So, in addition to breastfeeding (if possible) a collection flask is used and the baby will also receive milk via bottle or dropper. This is all to ensure that your child gets enough nutrients to become strong and not need any assistance any longer.
This is enormously tiring and intense for mom - breastfeeding, milk expression, and caring for the baby all at the same time. Sometimes it takes so long to get ready, feed, and flask some milk, that you can be half an hour later for anything you planned. Exhausting, stressful, but extremely important.
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