Babies born before the 37th week of gestation are considered premature or pre-term. There is an increased risk of complications arising in such cases, and caring for pre-term babies is of utmost importance. In such cases, complications of a preterm baby are addressed in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
Preterm newborns need special care because their bodies aren’t fully equipped to deal with life on their own. Their vital organs such as lungs, digestive system, immune system, and skin are still underdeveloped. NICU offers a protective environment for the baby until their organs are developed.
Care and Treatment in NICU
If your baby is admitted to NICU, you will depend on the staff to guide you through the treatment, rules, and procedure being followed. To avoid infection, you might be asked to wear a mask and wash hands properly before visiting your baby. Don’t be alarmed if you see several machines and instruments around your baby. They’re only there to assist in faster development. Here are some of the instruments that you may find in the NICU:
- An isolette or overhead heater – This is a clear plastic enclosed crib that provides a warm environment for the baby and protects him/her from germs.
- A Temperature Probe – It helps measure a baby’s skin temperature. It is part of an environmental control system that is used to regulate a baby’s body temperature.
- A heart monitor – It helps keep track of the baby’s breathing and heart rate.
- A pulse oximeter – This is a device that measures the amount of oxygen in the blood. It has an alarm for indicating that blood oxygen levels are below the safe levels
Some other instruments and tests might be needed for caring for pre-term babies, as per the baby’s requirements. These may include:
- A transcutaneous oxygen and carbon dioxide monitor, to measure the levels of these in the blood without using a needle.
- An Intravenous (IV) site, for giving medicine, fluids, and feedings.
- A ventilator to assist in breathing.
- Continuous Positive Airways Pressure (CPAP) for babies who can breathe on their own, but need help getting air in their lungs.
- A cranial ultrasound, to check for brain damage or bleeding.
- A chest X-ray, to check for lung damage, and also to check the positioning of an endotracheal tube if it is being used to assist breathing.
- An abdominal X-ray to check the intestine and also to check the position of the umbilical catheter.
- An echocardiogram to check the heart for congenital heart defects.
- Phototherapy to help treat jaundice.
While in the NICU, you will be encouraged to interact with your baby. You can use gentle stroking motions to touch him/her. Your baby can recognize your voice so talk to him/her as much as possible. You can also try pumping breastmilk and feed your baby with the help of NICU staff.
As your infant grows stronger and is able to independently use their organs, he/she will be discharged from the NICU. Since your baby is still susceptible to infections, you must take proper precautions, and must try not to ‘slip’ up during caring for pre-term babies. Here are some things you can do while caring for your preterm baby at home:
- Limited Outdoor visits
Outside visits in the first few weeks out of the NICU should be limited to only doctor’s office. Ask your doctor about how much you need to curb your baby’s contact with other kids and adults.
- Avoid public places and visitors
It is recommended to avoid going to public places with your preterm baby, since they don’t have a strong immune system. Also limit the number of visitors to your home – anyone who is ill, or smokes, should not visit your home. Anyone who wishes to touch your baby should be requested to wash their hands thoroughly before doing so.
- Make your baby to sleep on its back
To avoid the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) in your preterm baby, they must be made to sleep on their back.
- Practice Kangaroo care
Skin-to-skin contact, also known as Kangaroo care, is very beneficial for preterm babies. Nurses in NICU encourage parents to begin kangaroo care before discharge. Our nursing staff at KIMS Cuddles can show you how. Research shows that kangaroo care can enhance child-parent bonding, aid breastfeeding and also improve the health of the pre-term baby.
While it may seem challenging- caring for pre-term babies- know that you can always seek help at KIMS Cuddles.
*The opinions expressed in this article are not to be substituted for medical advice under any circumstance