You're over the moon that baby is here. But when that bundle of joy arrives early, it can throw you a curveball. Yes, you're happy, but that joy may be tempered by an array of concerns.
A baby born before 37 complete weeks of pregnancy is preterm or premature, says the Mayo Clinic. That happens in about 11 percent to 13 percent of pregnancies, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Typically, the earlier a baby is born, the higher the risk of complications.
Your baby will likely spend some time in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), until he's ready to go home. Once he's been cleared to leave, you may be scared to leave the security of the hospital.
These tips will help you best care for a premature newborn.
Breastfeeding: If you want to breastfeed, you can give your baby breast milk through a tube, even if your baby can't feed from your breast or a bottle. Pump as soon as possible after you give birth to help establish your milk supply. Your baby likely won't need much breast milk due to his small stomach. Talk to your health care provider about whether supplementation with formula may be needed.
Training: Consider taking a CPR course before baby leaves the hospital. You may be required to receive CPR training if your child has certain medical conditions. Ensure you're comfortable caring for your baby. If you need to take home any special monitors or machines, know how to use them, how to set them up in the car and what to do if something goes wrong.
Transportation: Before leaving the hospital, make sure your baby meets the car seat's minimum weight capacity. You may need head support or padding to keep baby's head in a position for his airway to stay open.
A car seat's partially reclined position may affect your baby's heart rate and breathing. Your hospital may monitor or evaluate him in the seat to ensure his health is stable when in it. Talk with your health care provider about other transportation options if he can't use a regular car seat.
Once you receive car seat approval, only use it during travel, not as a seat for your baby. And ask your health care provider if you need to limit your travel time since some premature babies can only sit in a car seat for an hour because of potential breathing problems.
Tummy time: You'll need to put baby on his belly to help his shoulder, back and stomach muscles get stronger. You can also place baby on your chest while he's awake as a form of tummy time. But remember to place your baby on his back for sleep.
Precautions: Preemies are susceptible to infection because their immune systems are still growing. Take precautions such as keeping your baby away from cigarette smoke and smoking areas and not letting visitors smoke in your home. Avoid public places for a few weeks (other than visits to your baby's health care providers), especially if it's wintertime. Limit visitors. Do not allow anyone who has a cold or is sick to visit.
You: Don't ignore your own health. Give yourself time to heal from childbirth. Rest and eat healthfully. If family and friends offer to cook meals, do errands or watch any other children you may have, take them up on it. It's OK to accept help from others. Get support from family, friends or a support group if you need it.