At the hospital, once your baby’s state of health is stable, you can take part in caring for her in several ways.
Premature babies are very sensitive to pain. Your baby may require several medical treatments, however, so you can provide comfort. If your baby’s condition allows, you can hold your baby skin to skin (kangaroo method) and murmur to her. Some babies also like to be swaddled or sung a lullaby. When a medical procedure is required, be sure to wake your baby gently. To reduce the pain, you can offer breast milk or sugary water to your baby, or breastfeed if she/he can suckle. A soother can also comfort.
Preemies can quickly become overstimulated. Between watching her parents, and listening to their lullabies while being touched, she can feel overwhelmed, since her nervous system is still not fully developed. Moreover, the hospital itself is a source of unpleasant stimulation: needles, medical staff’s hands, smelly disinfectants, noisy equipment, etc. So it is important to give your preemie pleasant sensations, preferably by introducing them gradually. For example, you could begin with skin to skin contact with your baby. When she is comfortable with this, sing her a lullaby. Later, you can gently massage her back. Finally, once she can withstand more stimulation, you can rock her.
A baby born before the 34th week of pregnancy will probably need to be fed partly by intravenous. As baby matures, she can receive small amounts of milk by tube through her nostril or mouth to her stomach. At this time, mothers may pump their milk to feed to their baby, if they wish. In fact, breast milk is highly beneficial to preemies. Breastfeeding a premature baby can be challenging, however. It is important that the mother receive support and encouragement. When the baby reaches the equivalent of 30 to 34 weeks of pregnancy, she can successfully latch on to the breast. This capacity develops before the baby can drink from a bottle.
Québec now has a public breast milk bank managed by Héma-Québec. The milk, donated by some 400 mothers, is analyzed, processed and pasteurized to eliminate viruses and bacteria. It is then sent to hospitals that care for very premature babies. The bank milk is reserved for babies born before the 32nd week of pregnancy who do not get enough of their mother’s milk. According to Héma-Québec, babies who are fed breast milk have three times less risk of developing a severe intestinal disease known as necrotizing enterocolitis.
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