Expert advice: How to care for your premature baby in their first weeks at home
Arriving home with your new bundle of joy is the most blissful feeling but it comes with some of the most terrifying moments of realisation.
Protective instincts kick in and sometimes they can be overwhelming as you try to settle into your new life with your baby.
In Ireland, approximately 3,500 infants are born prematurely each year - which equates to an incidence rate of 0.5 in 10 babies.
According to health experts at the HSE, it is very common for parents of premature babies "to feel nervous and unsure about caring for them at home."
Making the move from the hospital to home is a big step for you and your baby and it’s important to know that it takes time, "but gradually you will learn what you need to do".
You should be reassured that your newborn is being allowed home at the right time because "your healthcare team believes they are well enough to leave the hospital and that you are able to look after them."
While that sometimes is not enough to reassure new parents, here are some top tips on caring for your preemie baby in those first weeks at home, according to the HSE.
Keep your home temperature between 16 and 20 degrees Celsius. This will stop your baby from becoming too cold or overheating.
Do not overdress your baby. They won't need to wear a hat indoors if your home is at a comfortable temperature.
Your baby’s cot should be kept away from radiators and open windows.
Always use a "cellular" blanket (a blanket with lots of little holes in it) to stop your baby from overheating or being smothered.
Lay your baby down on their back and make sure that their covers are tucked in loosely so that they can't move down further.
The safest place for your baby to sleep at night is in a cot in the same room as you. Never fall asleep holding your baby.
You should never:
Put a pillow, quilt, or bumper pad in the cot of a baby under 1-year-old.
Have them near second-hand cigarette smoke
Too many visitors can overstimulate your baby. Premature babies are more sensitive to sounds and touch.
If your baby becomes overstimulated they may:
- shut their eyes and turn away from you
- extend their arms and legs
These signals are your baby telling you that they need to rest.
Make sure everyone washes their hands thoroughly before holding your baby.
Never let anyone with a cold or cold sore hold or kiss your baby.
Don’t be afraid to ask family and friends for help with housework or caring for older siblings. It's normal to need extra support as you and your family settle into a new routine.
If you have older children, they are probably excited about the new baby coming home.
It's important to let your older children be a part of your new baby’s care. You can do this by letting them help you look after the baby.
Activities like storytime are an opportunity for all of your children to spend time together.
Planning a trip out
After a few days at home, you may be ready to take your baby on a small trip outside. This could be a small walk or a trip to the local shop.
Always bring spare clothes in case your baby gets cold.
Wait 30 minutes after feeding your baby before putting them in the car. This will reduce the risk of them vomiting.
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