What is a premature baby & what does it mean to have one?
A premature baby is defined as a baby born at less than 37 weeks gestation. Nationally about 11% of babies are born prematurely with those born closer to full term generally requiring less care than those that arrive earlier. If a pregnant mum is at risk of a premature birth she may be prescribed steroids which will help to mature the baby’s lungs, making lung disease much less likely.
Care in hospital
Having a baby can be a daunting and over whelming experience and will often mean that normal life suddenly pales into insignificance. The treatment and care offered by the Special Care Baby Unit at the Princess Elizabeth Hospital in Guernsey is second to none, and you will soon come to regard the ward as your new, albeit temporary, home. In addition many mums have commented how the superb nurses can quickly take the place of friends and family. Fortunately due to the relatively small number of premature babies born each year here in Guernsey much of the fantastic nursing support is often provided on a one to one basis.
At birth some babies may weigh just a few pounds which means that they will usually require an incubator, be attached to breathing apparatus and monitors, and have a feeding tube or an intravenous line inserted.
This in itself can be a frightening experience and far from how you imagine how the first days of your baby’s life would be. Occasionally if a baby requires long term ventilation, requires surgery or has a complex heart condition he/she may be transferred for ongoing care in the UK, usually Southampton.
As babies mature they will have to meet certain criteria before being transferred from the incubator to an open cot, for example their ability to breathe on their own without oxygen and maintain their body temperature. The temperature in the incubator is slowly lowered, often several times a day, until the baby is able to maintain their body temperature without assistance.
Feeding & Nutrition
Another hurdle to overcome is feeding. As prematurely born infants may not have co-ordinated suck and swallow reflex at birth, and for several weeks thereafter, they are frequently fed by tube which is passed through their nostril and down into their stomach. Over time the baby learns to suck and swallow and the tube feeds are reduced until the tube is not needed at all and the baby can feed enough on his/her own, either by breast or bottle, to gain weight. Premature babies do best on breast milk and throughout the baby’s stay on the Neonatal Unit the staff encourage mums to express their milk so it is ready for when the baby is able to start feeding, even if you have decided not to breast feed in the longer term. If a baby is tube fed the nurses will show and help you to do this.
Once babies can feed without a tube, are gaining weight, do not need help with breathing and can maintain their temperature they are allowed home. There is no minimum weight for discharge. Once home there are regular visits from the health visitor to monitor the progress of the baby. There will also be regular follow-up reviews with the Paediatrician, Dr Sandie Bohin. The length of follow-up depends on how early or how poorly your baby was. For babies born at < 32 weeks follow up continues until the age of 2 years and at that stage providing all is well you be will discharged to the care of your GP. Additional special tests of vision and hearing are also required if babies are very premature.
Keep a journal
Despite their tiny size it is surprising the strength that such a little one can possess. As each obstacle is overcome parents find that keeping notes of their baby’s milestones in a diary can help them deal with the overwhelming range of emotions they may feel. Recording your baby’s progress will enable you to focus on positive things during more difficult times and will also give you a keepsake reminder for the years ahead when such memories can be less easy to recall.
Bliss are the special care baby charity, providing vital support and care to premature and sick babies across the UK. They offer guidance and information at a critical time in families’ lives. They also fund ground-breaking research and campaign for babies to receive the best possible level of care regardless of when and where they are born.
National Childbirth Trust
National Childbirth Trust is the UK’s largest charity for parents. They aim to give accurate, impartial information to parents so that they can decide what’s best for their family, and introduce them to a network of local parents to gain practical and emotional support.
Island Mums is a community based site show casing local topics and issues that local parents and children face on a regular basis. The site includes a ‘What’s On’ page, details of the popular Island Mums card which affords holders discounts with various Channel Island businesses and lots of other information about being a parent in Guernsey.