I had firsthand experience of mothering a Preemie when my third baby Muriithi (whose picture is to the left) was born on week 34.
1 out of every 10 babies world over will be born before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy. These babies are commonly referred to as Preterms, Preemies or Prems. The causes for these early births are unknown but can happen when the mama is unwell or the baby has some form of ill health or malformations.
Most of the babies will have to fully develop out of the womb which is a challenge hence their needs. The greatest challenge is the breathing as the lungs mature fully around week 36-37.
Most of these babies will have to be cared for at a Neonatal unit also know as a Prem Unit till they are generally well, have acquired a weight of 2kg and are feeding well.
Helping Parents of a Preemie:
It is quite distressful to the parents to leave their little baby in hospital for weeks and the trips to the hospital can be tiring and expensive. If you have a friend with a preemie, some things you can do to support them include:
• Escorting them to the hospital
• Visit them when they are at home to occupy them
• Take a trip to the hospital to deliver milk while they rest
• Take them out for a meal
• Help around the house.
• Above all, give them hope and encourage them to keep their hope alive.
Kangaroo Mother Care:
Kangaroo Mother Care is a model used to nature preemies. Its aim is like the animal Kangaroo; provide a pouch for the baby. Skin to skin contact is the main aim as this provides warmth, security and calmness to the baby and helps the baby grow better. The mum or dad places the baby on their chest, wraps a sling around and baby is cared for there for 24 hours. Breaks are taken during bath time for the parent and baby.
Breast feeding is easily done and encouraged during the Kangaroo mother care as the baby gets the required nutrients and it also helps boost their immunity.
It requires a lot of commitment from the mum or dad and support from the medical care providers, family and friends.
Caring for your Preemie:
Remember, the baby is not fully developed so gentleness is important:
1. Participate in their care:
Initially the baby will be in the Neonatal Care Unit. Parents are allowed in as long as they observe hygiene to keep infections away. Being there, talking and touching your baby is very helpful. Learn and Practice infant massage and kangaroo Mother care as much as is possible.
2. Breast feed:
Preemies born before 32 weeks and those whose health state is unstable may not breast feed at first. They are fed via a tube that delivers the milk to the stomach. Express milk and ensure that there is a constant supply as mama’s milk is best.
3. Learn about Preemie care from your doctor, books or other mums who had a Preemie. Get as much support as you can too.
4. Patience is key, parenting a Preemie starts on a different footing. Be patient with yourself as a parent and with your baby.
5. Do not compare your baby with babies born at the same time as them. They are developing outside the womb but they will catch up. Practical steps like dressing them in little clothes helps you not see like they are not growing.
Close monitoring of your preemie’s growth and development is important. if you notice that they have an abnormal development or are not developing in an area, seek medical attention and therapy. Early intervention therapy helps improve the functions.
And yes, though it is a tough start, Prems do grow and catch up.