Delivery of Your Premature Infant
delivery may happen suddenly or after days or weeks of waiting and worrying. If
you know you may deliver early, you, your partner, and your doctor can prepare
for a premature birth.
The premature delivery
You and your
premature infant (preemie) are considered high-risk
during preterm labor. This means that you will have less freedom, both to make
birth-related decisions and to move about freely. You can expect the
- You may need to adjust your birth plan and birthing choices during this birth. You can refuse medicines such as painkillers
during preterm labor. But other treatments such as
antibiotics or corticosteroids can be important to
ensure your infant's chances of good health after birth. Be sure to ask as many
questions as you can think of about your medical care. The more you understand
about your doctor's decisions, the less anxious you will feel.
- You will
be on constant
fetal heart monitoring. You also will be
checked regularly for changes in heart rate, body temperature, and uterine
- You will probably deliver vaginally, rather than by
cesarean section (C-section), as long as you and your
fetus show no signs of distress.
After the premature birth: The infant
As soon as
umbilical cord is cut, the neonatal staff will
watch over and stabilize your infant. If your infant is less than 36 weeks'
gestation at birth, they may move him or her to the neonatal
intensive care unit (NICU) for observation and specialized care. If you deliver in a hospital that has no NICU, your infant may need to be taken to another hospital.
During the first hours and
days, your infant will adjust to living outside of the maternal "life-support
system." This is a time when birth defects and complications of prematurity
often become apparent.
If your infant is
born between 22 and 25 completed weeks of pregnancy (extreme prematurity), you
likely will be faced with some
difficult decisions during the first month
after the birth. These
personal stories may help you make your decision.
After the premature birth: The mom
neonatal staff attends to your infant, the obstetric staff will care for you.
Depending on your condition, this will take
at least a few hours. Meanwhile, your birth partner may want to go with your
infant to the NICU.
Before your breast milk comes in (3 or 4 days
after childbirth), you will be asked to decide whether you plan
to breast-feed or bottle-feed your premature infant. Formula does not give your infant added
protection from early infection, so strongly consider pumping
milk for your infant for at least the first weeks of life. If
you decide to breast-feed, expect at first to pump milk for feedings until your
infant is mature enough to feed orally.
- Breast milk contains
antibodies that help protect your vulnerable infant
against early, serious infections, including
necrotizing enterocolitis, as well as ear and upper
respiratory infections during early childhood.
- The benefits of
breast milk over formula include better nutrient absorption, digestive
functioning, and nervous system development.
- Both specialized
formula and breast milk can offer your infant excellent
- Pumping and breast-feeding can
be one of the most beneficial and rewarding things you do for your premature
infant. But it may also be hard and exhausting. If you cannot breast-feed,
decide not to breast-feed, or find that you have to discontinue doing so,
formula feeding will meet your infant's nutritional needs.