Preparing for a wonderful, challenging experience
- There are many ways to create a healthy environment for your premature baby.
- Your baby needs a lot of rest to catch up on growth and development.
- “Kangaroo care” can provide benefits to both you and your preemie.
Bringing your baby home from the NICU can be joyous and scary at the same time. But preparing yourself, other family members, and your home for her arrival can reduce anxiety and let you enjoy this very important milestone.
Create a healthy environment for your baby
Your preemie has an immune system that’s still developing, so special precautions in your home and around family and friends are important. As you transition to life at home, don’t be afraid to advocate for your baby’s needs, as well as your own.
Here are some things you can do to help create a good environment for your preemie:
- Limit your baby’s exposure to the outside world, except for necessary doctor visits, during the first several weeks.
- Remind the nurse or receptionist that you have a preemie when you call to schedule doctor appointments. They may be able to schedule a time when the doctor only sees well children or before the office is full.
- Allow few visitors in your home the first several weeks.
Request visitors come only if they are well, and ask that no one smokes in your home or around your baby.
- Prevent the spread of germs and disease by kindly requesting thorough hand washing before holding your baby.
- Enlist help to thoroughly clean your home before your baby arrives.
Have an emergency plan
Premature babies are readmitted to the hospital more often than babies born at term. It may be difficult to think about an emergency after just leaving the hospital, but being ready with a plan is important.
It’s a good idea (and may be a requirement at your hospital) to learn infant cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) before your baby goes home. You will likely never need it, but it’s best to be prepared. Classes may be offered through the hospital or your local Red Cross.
- Keep the phone numbers to your baby’s doctor and hospital posted in an easy-to-find location.
- Understand what signs or symptoms warrant a trip to the ER versus a call to her doctor.
- Know the fastest route to the hospital as well as an alternate, in case of construction or traffic.
- Make a list of all your baby’s medications and doses, keep it with you at all times, and share it with anyone who provides medical care to your baby.
- Take a CPR class and make sure anyone else who cares for your baby does as well.
- Speak with close family or friends who can help with siblings in case of an emergency, and keep their phone numbers handy.
Bringing special equipment home
Some premature babies come home from the hospital with special medical equipment and/or monitors.
- Make sure you’re comfortable with the equipment before you leave the NICU. Request training from the NICU staff or a representative from the equipment manufacturer.
- Train all caregivers on how to use any special equipment that follows you home.
- Find out how to order additional supplies or equipment you may need.
- Know what to do and who to call if something goes wrong with the equipment.
Establishing a sleep schedule
Creating an environment that encourages sleep is important, as your baby needs a lot of rest to catch up on growth and development. Many premature infants get used to the steady lights and noise of the NICU. They may have a difficult time adjusting to a quieter home environment. Initially after coming home, you might consider keeping a dim light or soft music on in your baby’s room for a short time, until she has adjusted to her new environment.
Premature babies often sleep more than babies born at term, but they sleep for shorter periods. It may seem like she naps throughout the day and night, since preemies are seldom awake for long stretches. Your baby may be several months old before sleeping for six to eight hours at a time.
Good to know
Remember that all babies should be put on their back to sleep to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
Crying and fussiness
All babies cry as a way to communicate their needs. This is a normal part of development. But some preemies may cry more than full-term infants.
It can take some time for preemies to learn how to soothe and calm themselves, as well as to establish regular feeding and sleeping patterns. So, it isn’t surprising that she may be more difficult to console.
If you are concerned because your baby has been crying more intensely or longer than normal, it’s always a good idea to check with her doctor.
Bonding with your baby
“Kangaroo Care” is the term used to describe skin-to-skin bonding with your baby. Spend plenty of time each day snuggled skin-to-skin with you baby. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reports “kangaroo care” benefits both parents and baby. Potential benefits for your baby may include:
- Stability of heartbeat and breathing
- Better sleep
- Decreased fussiness
- Increased weight gain
- Improved breastfeeding
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