A premature baby is born before its gestational term, considered 37 weeks of pregnancy. Most pregnancies last 40 weeks, but it is not uncommon for babies to be born between week 37 and 40.If a baby is born pre-term, meaning before the 37 weeks of pregnancy, it is considered premature. Most babies born pre-term usually develop and go on living healthy and everyday lives.
Most premature births happen between weeks 32 and 36 of pregnancy. In this case, the baby will most likely develop with no severe challenges. However, babies born before the 32 weeks of pregnancy are more at risk of experiencing health struggles and development delays.
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What causes premature birth?
Doctors couldn’t establish clearly what might cause premature birth, but some aspects might contribute to this.
- Multiple pregnancy, such as caring for twins or more babies, can cause premature birth.
- Medical problems with the mother’s uterus or cervix could be too small to get the pregnancy to full term.
- Other medical conditions the mother might have such as an infection, pre-eclampsia, or diabetes.
- Mothers who had a premature birth are more at risk to experience a premature birth in future pregnancies.
Breastfeeding a premature baby
Nursing your premature baby is extremely important for their development and overall health. However, some doctors might suggest formula instead of breastmilk because it can make the baby gain weight faster. On the other hand, some doctors think combining formula meals with nursing meals is excellent for a preemie. These differences are established according to how premature the baby is and their overall health condition, making it challenging to establish the same feeding style and schedule.
Despite all these divided opinions on nursing a premature baby, studies show that babies fed with breastmilk developed better than those fed with formula. Here are only a few main benefits of nursing a premature baby:
- Breastfeeding helps your premie develop a better and more robust immune system and avoid many conditions that could come with premature birth, such as infections.
- If you nurse your baby, you increase their chance of developing healthy bones and stronger joints. They also develop better muscle structure and grow to catch up with babies born full-term better than formula-fed babies.
- Breastfed babies have stronger overall health longer in life. This makes for a long-term benefit of breastfeeding your premature baby that is significantly important.
- Breastmilk can successfully replace probiotics and eliminate the risk of digestive infections. In premature babies, infections that affect the intestines could be life-threatening, and they are common in 10% of cases.
If your baby was born prematurely, you will be able to nurse them just like you would any other baby. Still, there are certain aspects you might want to consider.
- Your baby might not be ready to latch correctly. For example, premature babies born before the 30thweek of pregnancy might be too small to latch correctly. If that is the case, you can pump your milk and feed them by using a bottle.
- Try to make as much skin-to-skin contact as possible. Holding your baby has essential benefits for them from the moment they are born. Of course, depending on how fragile your baby is as well as the policy of the hospital, your skin-to-skin time together might be limited. But it is essential to give them as much contact time as you can according to your circumstances.
- Pay attention to your baby’s development. Of course, your doctor will let you know if there are any concerns regarding your baby’s development. Still, it will help keep an eye on such milestones. For example, your baby should gain weight as a sign that they assimilate the breastmilk, and they should get better at latching and eating in the first days or weeks. If you don’t see such signs, you want to talk to your lactation specialist and doctor to find alternative, better solutions.
Treatment Required for Premature Babies
Depending on how premature your baby is, they might require extra medical care to catch up and develop as normally as possible.
- Premature babies will spend some days, weeks, and even months in the incubator. The conditions of the incubator found at the NICU section of the hospital are made to resemble the conditions of their mothers’ wombs. The baby will stay in this environment until they are developed enough to go home.
- Additionally, your baby might be given jaundice treatments and different nutrients to develop as well as possible. If your baby is not developed enough to breathe independently, they might be given oxygen.
Babies that can’t suck will be fed by a tube that goes into their stomach and through IVs to make sure they stay hydrated.