What does it mean when a baby is born premature?
Let’s start with defining prematurity. This is when a baby is born too soon. A gestational age of less than 37 weeks is considered premature (March of Dimes). Some sources break it down further and say that 34-37 weeks is considered late pre-term and that a baby 26 weeks gestational age or younger is a micro preemie.
So these babies are just small, right? Wrong!
Premature babies often face a variety of medical challenges. Even late pre-term babies that appear healthy can face challenges.
Preemies often need support to breathe, eat, and maintain their temperature. Basic things we all take for granted.
Preemies may have brain bleeds, lung disease, heart issues, vision issues, just to name a few.
Preemies typically will spend time in the hospital in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) or the SCN (special care nursery) so that they can receive the specialized care they need in order to survive.
Preemies did not have the chance to finish growing and developing in utero. This means that their organs can be underdeveloped. For example, their lungs can be immature. Their immune systems also have not fully developed.
Because of this, preemie babies are more susceptible to infections. It is harder for them to fight off germs, even when they are home from the hospital.
This is why many families have to do something called isolation.
If you are in isolation you basically don’t go anywhere besides doctors appointments and visitors are very limited. This isn’t something anyone wants to do, but it is often needed.
Something that may seem to be a common cold for an adult or an older child could be respiratory syncytial virus aka RSV, which can be life threatening for preemies and newborns. So don’t think a parent of a preemie is being ridiculous if they ask you to stay away when you have the sniffles.
Believe me, parents of preemies want visitors. We want to celebrate our new baby just like everyone else. If you can’t come visit in person you can still check in! Call, text, FaceTime, e-mail, however you communicate with the parents – they will appreciate it!
Wash your hands!
Always wash your hands before holding any newborn really. We asked that no one touch our daughter’s hands or face. If you had been smoking, then you could forget about coming near her. The hospital gave guidance when she first came home for grandparents to only kiss the back of her head and for no one else to kiss her at all. We made sure to sanitize ourselves after we had been out in public. For example, when my husband went back to work, he would change his clothes, wash hands with soap and water, and then use hand sanitizer before holding her. And this was our daughter!
When I got sick, I was quarantined to our spare room. We got face masks and my husband disinfected the entire house. If someone was sick they weren’t allowed near us. Even if someone else in the house was sick, we avoided visits with someone that may have been exposed.
This meant that we spent our first Christmas Eve as just our family of three. We didn’t go out as a family to a restaurant or a store for months, and when we did I was constantly worried about germs.
At her first birthday I had a station set up with hand sanitizer right at the doorway. We still have a giant bottle of hand sanitizer ready right when you come in our front door at home.
If you know someone with a preemie, respect their wishes.
Know that they are not being overprotective, but that they are doing what is best for their child. They are typically following the advice of medical professionals who know and have cared for their baby. Learn more about what they have been going through and how they have been affected by prematurity.
Some great resources to check out are:
March of Dimes – a pretty well known group working to support healthy babies and moms
Project Preemie – a site supporting preemie parents and the nicu community
Graham’s Foundation – they have an app you can download on your phone that is great if you have a preemie
Hand to Hold – this is family support resource that I wish I had heard about sooner
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