Preemies: special babies with special needs

Premature babies, particularly those born before 37 weeks in the womb or those who are very small, need extra help to survive outside the protective environment of their mother's womb. Some parts of their bodies have not had time to fully develop, and so they may have special needs.

Premature babies often have difficulties breathing, feeding, and controlling their internal body temperature:

  • Temperature: Placing babies in an incubator, or hot-cot, will maintain their temperature.
  • Breathing: Preemies may have breathing problems because their lungs are not fully developed. Babies with breathing problems often need to receive extra oxygen. Using an oxygen hood, a ventilator or respirator, and continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) are ways of ensuring the baby receives enough oxygen.
  • Feeding: Very tiny premature babies cannot suck, swallow, and breathe well enough in the beginning to meet their needs. Many of them would use more energy trying to suck and swallow than they would get from the milk. This is why your baby's first calories will be given through an intravenous line (also called an IV line) or a fine tube through the nose or mouth into the stomach (also called a feeding tube).

Because of these special needs, many preemies may need to be admitted to a special care baby unit (SCBU), a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), or a premature infant care unit (PICU).

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