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Most parents get to the point where they feel like they can’t wait any longer for the birth of their child. However, the parents of the premature baby tend to wish for just the opposite. The birth of a child can be a scary time, and premature birth only compounds that feeling, adding a dimension of panic and worry that parents rarely see coming.
For over two decades, my mother worked as a registered nurse in both labor and delivery and neonatal intensive care. Over the years, I witnessed the incredible work done by doctors and nurses to ensure that a premature baby has just as much chance to grow up happy and healthy as babies who were carried to term.
“The biggest concern,” she told me, “apneic spells and bradycardia, which means they stop breathing and their heart rate drops below 100.” In the hospital, the babies are monitored closely, and nurses will provide stimulation (sometimes pinching them in extreme cases) and they begin breathing again. In other cases they can administer medicine, such as caffeine or theophylline.
When kids are sent home, they have typically been free of “A’s-&-B’s” for some time. If it is still a concern, they can be sent home with monitors that can help parents stay on top of their rest cycle. “After the concern for breathing and heart rates,” my mother continued, “nutrition is important.”
There is still debate amongst researchers whether breastfeeding or enriched formula is best for the premature baby. Yet, all agree that whichever route you decide to go, that once the baby goes home ensuring proper nutrition will only aid him or her in growing normally.
It may sound daunting, but all newborns are demanding and premature babies simply have their own unique set of needs. “Development is often delayed, but they eventually catch up,” my mother told me, but it can sometimes take years, so be patient. If you feel overwhelmed there are organizations out there that seek to help parents of preemies. “Otherwise,” she said, “[premature babies] are usually just like any other babies: Eat, sleep, pee, poop and grow.”