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Preterm Birth: Care Instructions


Many things can cause a baby to be born early. Some early births are planned, such as with twins or triplets. But in most cases, a birth that happens weeks before the due date is a surprise. Whatever the reason, your doctor and medical team will work hard for your baby's health. If you know you will give birth early, then you, your partner, and your doctor can prepare for a preterm birth.

Your baby may be delivered through a cut, called an incision, in your belly. This surgery is called a caesarean delivery, or a C-section. The surgery will make it hard for you to move around for a while.

A childbirth (obstetric) team and a new baby (neonatal) team will be there for your baby's birth. The neonatal team will bring special equipment with them, including a bed with an overhead heater. The obstetric team will take care of you while the neonatal team takes care of your baby.

Your baby may need special care for some time. The doctors and nurses in the hospital nursery or the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) can help a preterm baby get stronger. Your baby may have trouble feeding. The hospital staff can show you how to get your milk to your baby.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

Before your baby comes home

  • Some early babies stay in the hospital for a few days to weeks. Talk with your doctor about this.
  • You may worry about your premature baby's health. Talk with your baby's doctor about your baby's care. Ask how your baby is responding to treatment. Good nutrition and hospital and home care can help your baby grow.
  • Your breast milk will come in 3 or 4 days after the birth. So before the birth you will need to decide if you will breastfeed. If you decide to breastfeed:
    • You may need to pump milk for feedings. You'll do this until your infant is mature enough to feed by mouth.
    • You may want to spend the night with your infant. You'll be able to see if your baby is strong enough to nurse around the clock.
  • Your baby may sleep most of the time. It may seem like it takes a long time for your baby to respond to you.
  • Machines may help your baby stay warm, breathe, and eat. Ask the NICU staff to explain how the equipment works. With their help, you can quickly learn about the treatment, your baby's needs, and what you can do for your baby. The more you learn while your baby is in the NICU, the better you will be able to take care of your baby at home.
  • As your baby grows stronger, you will be able to take on more of the caregiving. You will be able to change diapers and hold, feed, and bathe your baby.
  • If your baby will need special equipment, you will get written instructions for its use.

To take care of yourself

  • Follow any instructions your doctor has given you for your own care. This will guide your activities and tell you what to watch for in the next few weeks.
  • Get as much rest as possible.
  • Do not have sex unless your doctor says it is okay.
  • Do not smoke or allow others to smoke around you. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
  • Your doctor can refer you to support services, such as support groups. They can help you learn what to expect and how to care for your premature baby. Talking with other parents who are dealing with the same things you are may help you with both the challenges and the joys ahead.
  • Preterm birth can be very stressful and tiring. It is important that you and your partner take good care of yourselves and each other.

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.