What If My Baby Is Born Prematurely?

Did you know that it’s possible for a baby to survive outside the womb from 25 weeks of pregnancy? Of course, it’s best for Baby to stay in the womb as long as possible: the earlier he’s born, the more problems and challenges he’ll face. Unfortunately, people usually don’t have much say in premature delivery…

A normal pregnancy lasts for 37–42 weeks, and being born just a little bit early – even at 35 or 36 weeks – can cause challenges in Baby’s early weeks and months. Don’t despair though; the modern care techniques for preemies are excellent, and you can rely on the neonatal staff to do all they can to keep Baby safe.

If you’re the new parent of a preemie, here are a few general things you should know:

  • Preemie boys tend to have more challenges than preemie girls
  • All preemies have a slight risk of respirator conditions
  • Babies under 1kg usually can’t be nursed outside of an incubator
  • Most hospitals won’t discharge babies weighing less than 2kg

A premature birth and the hospitalisation of Baby can be a very stressful time, and lots of parents struggle with feeling helpless. The good news is that there is usually something you can do to help. There’s a simple but incredibly effective technique called Kangaroo Mother Care, or skin-to-skin care. Basically, Mom places her mostly naked baby on her naked chest and covers him with a warm blanket or special wrap. Research shows that this simple technique is more effective than an incubator for stabilising temperature, oxygen supply, and breathing. It’s also soothing for Mom – and the best part is that Dad can do it too!

Of course, some babies are simply too premature to be taken out of the incubator for skin-to-skin care. In this case, simply place your hand very carefully on Baby’s tummy while he’s in the incubator, or gently hold his tiny hand – this can provide many of the same benefits. Most hospitals know about the power of skin-to-skin care and will probably support and encourage you as far as possible.

Here’s the last question to think about: why would anyone plan a premature birth? Surely parents wouldn’t knowingly put themselves – and their baby – through this? Unfortunately, some parents do. Elective C-sections are popular in South Africa, but sometimes doctors give incomplete information and babies are delivered up to two weeks earlier than their due dates, which may already have been brought forward, despite research showing that the first sonar estimated birth date (at around 16 weeks) is the most accurate. These premature C-section babies are more likely to need Neonatal ICU care and often have respiratory problems and compromised immune systems, kidneys, lungs, and blood. They might not always have immediate challenges, but they often suffer from allergies, asthma, diabetes, and even obesity in later life.

If you are considering an elective C-section, I ask that you wait for as close to full term as possible – for Baby’s sake.