Many preemie parents feel like one father, who admitted, “When we took our little 4-pound baby girl home, [she had been in the hospital 14 weeks] we were thinking, ‘well, now she’ll just be like a normal baby girl.’
We had no idea what the next year would be like.”
Since every child born is a unique individual, and every preemie’s condition depends on so many different variables, it’s impossible to precisely predict what you may encounter during your first year at home with your preemie. So, let’s just tackle the top 3 questions asked by most preemie parents about this time.
Typically, the younger your baby was at birth (gestational weeks), the more time he or she will need to “catch up” to peers in terms of developmental milestones.
Experts estimate some micro-preemies (born at 24-28 weeks gestation) may take 2-3 years to catch up. Much depends on her health at birth and since that time, any medical challenges, and her care and wellbeing at home.
Say your child was born at 30 weeks rather than at term—around 40 weeks—then she may need an additional 10 weeks to reach normal newborn milestones. So, for example, instead of sitting up by herself at 6 months, your child may wait until 8½ months to accomplish this task. And she may not tolerate solid foods until after 8 months as prematurity effects every system within a baby’s body, including her digestive system.
Generally, yes. If she is a preemie, she will be followed more closely by her healthcare provider through the first year of her life.
If she was born at a very low birth weight (less than 3 pounds), was on a ventilator for more than 2 days, or was in critical condition for more than a few days, she may also need to be seen by a public health nurse or premature infant follow-up clinic. Typically, such appointments happen twice a year for 2 to 3 years.
Your baby may be referred to other healthcare providers, such as pediatric developmental specialists, physical or occupational therapists, respiratory therapists, gastro-intestinal specialists, pulmonologists, or ophthalmologists. Of course, if baby was born with another specific problem (e.g. cardiac), there will be a specialist to match!
Breastmilk is the first line of defense for any baby. The antibodies contained in breastmilk will help protect baby for those first critical 3 months. Afterward, in a full term baby, his or her natural antibodies begin to develop throughout the first year.
For a preemie, this process is also premature. Baby’s gestational age at birth and her individual challenges play a big part in determining how long you will need to be hyper vigilant about avoiding infection. Although it is unrealistic to keep baby in a bubble, some precautions are wise:
Call your healthcare provider if you see any of the following in your preemie: