Caring for a premature baby

You’ve been waiting for this moment, but things happened a little differently than expected: Your baby was born early. We’re here to help you through what happens next. Caring for a premature baby can be scary at first, but with the help of your doctor and nurses, you and your baby will adjust just fine. And don’t hesitate to ask them questions and for help as you get used to this new life.

Premature baby survival

A full-term pregnancy, when a baby would be considered to be born on time, continues for up to 40 weeks. A baby born before the 37th week of the pregnancy is considered to be born prematurely. Statistically, however, premature babies – also known as “preemie” babies – have an excellent chance of survival if they receive the right kind of medical and parental care.

Premature baby health

Because their bodies are not yet fully developed, premature babies may:

  • Weigh less than full-term babies.
  • Have trouble breathing on their own.
  • Have trouble feeding.
  • Not be able to control their body temperature.
  • Be prone to infections.
  • Need special injections, like steroids, to help their lungs and organs develop.

Premature baby care

Most premature babies are moved to a special ward in the hospital, commonly known as the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). If your hospital doesn’t have a NICU, you and your baby may be transferred to a hospital that has one. Your baby will stay in an incubator, as this helps them to keep warm, and also ensures that they get 24-hour care. Nurses and doctors will help a lot to take care of your baby at this time, giving you the opportunity to rest and recover from childbirth. You will also be encouraged to hold and cuddle your baby, as skin-to-skin contact, commonly referred to as kangaroo care, has been shown to improve premature babies’ health and their ability to breastfeed.

Feeding your premature baby

Many premature babies battle to bottle feed or breastfeed. Your baby will be fed through an intravenous (IV) line or a tube at first, and then slowly progress towards being fed by breast or bottle.

Caring for your premature baby at home

How long your premature baby spends in hospital will depend on how early they were born, how quickly they gain weight, their ability to feed, and if they can control their body temperature on their own. Any other health problems may extend your baby’s hospital stay.

Once they are ready to come home with you, you should:

  • Make sure everything you need at home, from nappies to groceries, is ready.
  • Limit the number of visitors you welcome, and avoid going out with your baby until your doctor says it is safe to do so. This is important, because premature babies are quite vulnerable to infections.
  • Attend all your appointments with your doctor or clinic. This will ensure your baby is growing and developing well, and receiving all the necessary medical care.


Compiled by: Cath Jenkin