Taking your premmie baby home is a milestone. There is much anticipation around taking a baby home from the hospital for the first time – and more so when that baby is premature. A premature baby is one that arrives early – but not just a week or two early. A baby that arrives before 37 weeks gestation is considered to be premature, and will usually need to be kept in hospital longer than a full term baby, hence the extra anticipation around coming home.
Here are a few ideas to think about when taking your early arrival home for the fist time.
Ask if your maternity ward offer a private room where you and your partner can spend the night alone with your baby before you take them home. This will give you a chance to be the primary carer in a supportive environment. Spending a night alone together while still in the hospital may give you that extra confidence boost to reassure you that everything will be fine once you get home.
Breastfeeding can be difficult for any mother and baby, and more so with a premature baby. Simply because babies that arrive early get very tired, very quickly so often don’t have the energy to make it through a feed. Be prepared to feed frequently – potentially up to nine times a day. Planning to feed at least every two to four hours, and expressing three times a day will help ensure you are building your milk supply and your baby is getting enough nutrients.
Babies don’t need to be bathed every day and in particular, premature babies only need a bath every three for four days. Their skin can be dry and delicate so bathing everyday can irritate it. The ‘top and tail’ method is perfectly fine – this is where you wipe you baby clean with a warm wet face washer. Your workload will already be significant with an intense feeding schedule so the ‘top and tail’ method is one less daily task.
Standard newborn sizes don’t usually fit premature babies so it is worth trying to get hold of a few premmie-sized outfits before you leave the hospital. Most leading baby retailers sell premature sized baby clothes, and they are easily sourced online. Choose outfits that are easy to get on and off, such as all-in-one rompers that button from top to bottom. Look out for Premmie nappies that are especially designed for premature babies and won’t cause stress marks on their precious skin.
Premature babies are at a higher risk of infection because of their immature immune system. Breast milk is an excellent way to help make their immune system stronger as it is packed with antibodies that are designed and made just for them. Asking friends or family with colds or other illnesses that can be passed on, to stay away until they are well will help protect your baby. Hand washing is also very important; asking anyone who nurses your baby to wash their hands before they pick them up will help protect against infection.
Having a baby that arrives early can be very worrying and cause parents anxiety. If you feel overwhelmed by the prospect of taking your baby home, reach out for some support. Call on friends and family for help, and access support organisations such as the Miracle Babies Foundation (NurtureLine® – a national 24-hour helpline – 1300 622 243).
While you and your baby have undoubtedly been through an ordeal with the birth and early arrival, trust that you are the perfect person to look after your baby. You are the one that your baby wants, and both of you are learning. Your baby is being sent home from hospital because they are ready for you to take over their care.