The Premature Infant

The premature infant enters the world not fully prepared for separation from the mother.

Babies who are born before they are fully developed are said to be premature. Premature babies are before the thirty-seventh week of pregnancy. Premature births can occur for many reasons. The fetus may not be developing normally in the uterus or the uterus itself may not be functioning as it should. In some cases, doctors will cause a premature birth by starting labor early because they have found some problem with the fetus that needs immediate care.

Premature babies are usually smaller than the average baby, generally weighing less than five pounds. Instead of having the usual 40 weeks in the womb for some reason they have been born early. As the baby has not had the entire 40 weeks he may not be ready for life independently. Depending on the time he has missed he may have certain difficulties after birth. If he is only born 4 to 6 weeks early he may only need a little bit of extra help but the baby born "younger" may need much help. He may not be able to live on his own without some special care. They are usually placed in an incubator. An incubator (IN kyuh bay tur) is a special container that keeps the baby warm and protects it from disease. The bay is fed on a regular schedule and the hospital staff watches closely for any problems. Protected in the incubator, the baby can develop and grow strong until he can go home.

He made need the help of an incubator as this is the nearest medical science has provided to be an artificial womb. The baby may be placed in this incubator immediately after birth. He will need extra oxygen, extra warmth, isolation and a controlled humidity. A baby that is born 4 to 6 weeks early may just need to be in this environment for a few hours or a few days. During the time he is in the incubator he will have a round the clock trained nursing staff and a physician. The highly sophisticated machinery of the incubator records any changes in his breathing, etc. The incubator will sound an alarm if anything is wrong. There is a tube that can be passed down his nose into his throat for frequent feedings as he may not be mature enough to even suck or swallow. The womb of the mother is no longer available this machine will take over and be a continuation of the womb for the infant. The doctor will determine when he might be removed from the incubator when he is certain that the premature baby is able to survive and function on his own. Sometimes the premature baby only needs a little oxygen for a short time. The younger baby may need help in the functioning of all of his body systems for a while.



This time when the premature baby is living in the incubator can be a very hard time for the parents. Naturally, the mother and father expected to hold their newborn after delivery and now they see the baby in the incubator. Both have waited the entire pregnancy for that precious moment when they hold the baby and the mother especially will be yearning for the chance to hold and kiss this new addition to the family. It is very hard to see a baby in the incubator and only be able to lean over and watch him. In a few days or even a few hours both of the parents will realize the nurses and doctors are doing their best to care for the premature baby. By talking to the nurses and doctors there can be much in the way of explaining the functions of each of the gadgets or tubes, etc. Parents are sometimes allowed touch the baby or in time even to be able to change his diaper. In time they are able to take him out and hold him even if just for a few minutes. Some babies will require

The breast milk of the mother to be expressed and it may even be fed through a dropper or a tube until he can suck. In any case, the breast milk will help the baby with nutrition and you may even be asked to help other babies in the neonatal unit by helping with the supplying of breast milk. Most hospitals even have a "milk bank" that is for sick or premature babies.

The baby that is born premature will not act or even look like a full term infant. Usually the full term infant will weight 6-7 pounds or even more but the premature infant will most likely weight 5 pounds or much less. Depending on the amount of time he was able to live in the womb his weight will vary. You will be surprised at the size of his head as it will appear large and not in proportion to the rest of his body. The skin will appear thin as he has very little fat and you will see blood vessels beneath the skin. There is a while, cheesy vernix protecting full term babies at birth that the premature infant will not have this covering. The features of his body will not be as round or will appear somewhat sharper than a full term baby.

He will cry differently than a full term baby as his cry will be very soft, if he even cries. His crying will be watched carefully and his breathing as his respiratory system is still immature. When babies are less than two months to full term their breathing problems can be severe and can lead to later problems as the organs are not getting enough oxygen. That is why the incubator is so helpful as it will do the breathing for him.

Above all do not worry about bonding with your premature infant. It may be awhile before you have the care of the baby all to yourselves. He will sense your love even while in the incubator and if you are allowed to touch or hold he will know your touch. Try to be there as often as permitted and talk to him and he will sense the love you have in your hearts for him. Then hopefully before very long you will have this precious baby home with the rest of the family.

The doctor will give you all the necessary instructions for the care of the baby when he arrives home and will be available if you need to call for more information.

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