Mothering Preterm Babies
Premature birth has become a common phenomenon in the country. A premature infant is a baby born before 37 completed weeks of gestation. Mothers with health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure may contribute to preterm labour. And, about 15% of all premature births are multiple pregnancies (twins, triplets, etc.).
Having a preterm baby impacts the mother psychologically; she often tends to feel guilty as her breast may not produce enough milk because the hormonal stimulation to her body has been less. But what the mothers do not realise is that the preterm baby would require less amount of milk and the same produced by the mother is sufficient.
Breastfeeding is most important for the baby during their first 6 months. Breast milk has important ingredients which help in building the baby’s immune systems, and these are not found in any infant instant formula available in the market. Breast milk changes from feed to feed to suit each baby’s unique needs, making it the perfect food to promote healthy growth and development. Breastfed babies are rarely constipated and are less likely to get diarrhea.
A preterm baby faces difficulties in sucking the breast milk as this involves lot of energy. In such cases, babies should be fed breast milk using a bowl and a spoon. The mothers have to be taught how to express breast milk manually or with a breast pump. Bottle and nipple feeding should not be encouraged as the baby can get used to this which is smooth, and later the baby will not be able to suck the breast milk which involves a vigorous process.
In addition, the babies have to be kept protected from various other infections by maintaining hygiene and need to be kept warm right after birth. They should be cleaned dry thoroughly, and placed on their mother’s chest after the umbilical cord has been clamped and cut, with skin-to-skin contact, until after the first breastfeed – especially for babies born at term with good birth weight. Most babies will breathe normally after thorough drying. Those who do not start breathing on their own need help: ventilation with a bag and mask will usually put them back on track.
Premature babies need to stay warm and dry. They need to be kept clean, and have enough fluids and nourishment. Premature babies cant keep themselves warm at first, partly because they have not built up stores of body fat. Hence, the mothers are advised to do Kangaroo Care – a technique where the premature baby is placed in an upright position on its mother’s bare chest, allowing tummy to tummy contact that positions the baby between the mother’s breasts. The baby’s head is turned so that its ear is positioned above the mother’s heart.
This care has several benefits, including establishing an enduring bond between parent and child through touch and smell. The process can help regulate the babys heart and breathing rates, increase weight, calm the baby, provide deeper sleep, and regulate temperature.
With good medical care, timely feeding, strict hygiene, post–discharge care, warmth of the parents, and following your pediatricians’ advice will help a premature baby beat all odds to be a healthy little bundle of joy.
Article written by
Dr. Anita K Mohan
Consultant Obstetrics & Gynaecologist, Fortis Hospital