09:20 09 June 2009
If your baby is born at 37 weeks or before, she's arrived 'pre-term'. Babies born this early have different needs from babies born later " the sooner a baby is born, the more specialist care she needs. This article also appears on www.bbc.co.uk/parenting/having_a_baby
The main risks for pre-term babies are infection and breathing difficulties. Their breathing and heart rate needs to be carefully observed, to allow a quick reaction, from medical staff, if needed. A lot of the equipment in special care is used to measure breathing, temperature and heart rate.
"...hold your baby as much as you can..."
Babies born pre-term may need to spend time in an incubator. It will monitor and maintains your baby's heat, but you will still be able to touch it and have some physical contact with your baby.
Some babies are jaundiced for up to two weeks after the birth. This is common in newborn babies due to their livers being immature, but is perfectly normal. However, if your baby is still jaundiced after two weeks you should consult your doctor.
If your baby is disabled, it is important that you discuss your feelings with others. You are likely to feel a range of emotions, from love to anger, which is understandable, but it is important you are aware of your baby's immediate and future prospects.
Remember, you are not the only parent in the world with a disabled child. Many organisations have self-help groups run by parents. (See Support for you for a list of organisations.) Talking to others in a similar situation could be beneficial to you and how you approach the long-term development and care of your child.
A baby in special care tends to sleep much of the time, and it can be difficult to feel you are 'doing' something for him. But there's plenty you can do.
Sometimes, there's no obvious reason for pre-term labour. Some possibilities are:
If you think you are in labour, because you start contracting, you realise your waters have broken, or if you are bleeding, contact the hospital.
If your labour is very early, you may be able to stall it for a while with drugs to slow down or stop the contractions. Pre-term babies are at risk of respiratory distress syndrome (RDS); giving injections of drugs called corticosteroids to the mum can reduce the risk of this happening, because they help to mature the baby's lungs.
Sometimes, pre-term labour is deliberately induced. This might happen if it's thought the baby has a better chance of survival outside the uterus or if the mum has a threatening condition such as severe pre-eclampsia or eclampsia.
"It was very distressing, seeing him in the cot, knowing he was ill and wishing I could do more for him. It took a while to get over the idea he was fragile, even when he came home. It took weeks to feel relaxed with him - but over time, things got better and I realised he wasn't weak any more, but as strong as any other baby."
"I found speaking to the other parents was quite hard. We were all so wrapped up in being anxious about our babies. It was a lonely time."
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