DESCRIPTIONPremature infants are babies born before 37 weeks of pregnancy. All the newborn's body systems are involved.
Appropriate health care includes:
Physician's monitoring of general condition and medications.
Hospitalization in a nursery for premature infants. This provides temperature-controlled bassinets, mechanical breathing machines, and continuous nursing care.
SIGNS & SYMPTOMSBirth weight of less than 5-1/2 pounds (2.5kg).
Low body temperature.
Weak sucking and swallowing reflexes.
Susceptibility to infection.
Fluid and electrolyte imbalance (sometimes).
Jaundice caused by poor elimination of bilirubin, a byproduct of the breakdown of red blood cells.
Induced (artificially-started) labor or Cesarean section because of serious injury or illness in the mother.
Poor nutrition; smoking; injury to the uterus; excess alcohol consumption; use of mind-altering drugs; inadequate prenatal care; damage to the cervix in previous deliveries; vaginal infections that spread to the uterus; urinary-tract infection; more than one fetus (twins or more); previous premature delivery; being an adolescent mother.
PREVENTING COMPLICATIONS OR RECURRENCE
Obtain good prenatal care throughout pregnancy.
Don't smoke, use mind-altering drugs, or drink alcohol during pregnancy.
Eat a normal, well-balanced diet during pregnancy (See Appendix 32). Take prenatal vitamin and mineral supplements, if your doctor prescribes them.
Don't use medications of any kind, including non-prescription drugs, without consulting your doctor.
If you have a weak cervix, which is sometimes evident before pregnancy, ask your doctor about a minor operation to strengthen the cervix.
Rest more and decrease activity in the 3rd trimester, especially if you have bloody spotting or other warning signs.
Medical history and physical exam by a doctor.
Laboratory blood studies to detect anemia or infection in the infant and to determine the degree of jaundice.
Serious infections, such as meningitis or colitis.
Hyaline-membrane disease (See Glossary).
Blindness, if excessive oxygen is necessary to maintain the infant's life.
The infant's survival chances depend on its maturity. With good care, most premature infants "catch up" developmentally with other children and lead normal lives.
HOME CAREPremature infants require special care once they are mature enough to leave the hospital. Ask for assistance from a visiting-nurse service or your local health department.
MEDICATIONMedicine usually is not necessary for prematurity, but your doctor may prescribe drugs for complications.
See Medications section for information regarding medicines your doctor may prescribe.
DIET & FLUIDS
Feeding by stomach tube may be necessary if your infant's sucking reflex is too weak. When normal feeding is possible, most premature infants tolerate mother's milk best. Return to the hospital as often as possible to feed the baby. Use a breast pump to express and store milk for feedings when you cannot be present. Hold the baby often. Bonding is important.
OK TO GO TO SCHOOL?Only after your child has reached a degree of normal development. Your physician will be your guide.
CALL YOUR DOCTOR IF
After returning home, your baby has any of the following:Fever.
Poor appetite or poor weight gain.
Excessive crying that persists even when the child is picked up.