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Premature Infant - The First Weeks at Home

As you and your premature infant adjust to being at home, you will gradually establish a routine together. During the first weeks at home, consider these important points:

  • Sleeping and wakefulness. Because their brains aren't as fully developed at birth as full-term newborns, premature infants:
    • Sleep more than full-term infants do but for shorter periods of time. Expect that you may be awakened frequently at night until 6 months after your due date.
    • Are seldom awake for more than brief periods until about 2 months after their due date. It may seem like a long time before your infant responds to your presence.
  • Fussiness and hypersensitivity. It's normal for full-term infants to cry for up to 3 hours a day by 6 weeks after their due date. Most premature infants will do the same and then some. Your premature infant may be easily disturbed by too much light, sound, touch, or movement or by too much quiet after living in the noisy NICU. If so, gradually create a more calming environment, swaddle your infant in a blanket, and hold him or her as much as possible. When you swaddle your baby, keep the blanket loose around the hips and legs. If the legs are wrapped tightly or straight, hip problems may develop.
  • Sleeping position. Laying your infant on his or her back reduces the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), which is more common among premature infants than full-term infants.
  • Feedings. Your infant probably will come home on a hospital feeding schedule, which will tell you how often to nurse or bottle-feed at home. To avoid infant dehydration, never go longer than 4 hours between feedings. Small feedings may help reduce spitting up. If you see signs of reflux during or after feedings, such as spitting up a lot, talk to your infant's doctor.
  • Nutrition. Your infant's doctor may recommend adding iron, vitamins, or supplemental formula to a breast-fed diet. Adding iron is typical treatment for all premature infants (preemies), because they lack the iron stores that full-term infants have at birth. Some preemies simply need extra energy and vitamins from formula (given in addition to breast milk) to keep up their growth.
  • Exposure to diseases and smoke. Your premature infant needs more protection than a full-term infant, particularly due to immature lungs at birth.
    • Keep your infant away from sick family members and friends as well as from enclosed public places during his or her first two winter seasons.
    • Don't allow tobacco smoke near your infant.
  • Protection from serious illness (immunizations and RSV antibody). With the exception of the hepatitis B vaccine, the preemie's schedule for childhood immunizations is the same as for a full-term infant, figured from the date of birth (chronological age). In addition, the doctor may suggest that your baby get injections of RSV antibody in the winter, to help reduce the risk of problems from respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection.
  • Child care. You may need to find child care for times when you need a break or for when you return to work or other tasks. Avoid group child care if your baby is at high risk for infection, especially in the fall and winter when viral illnesses tend to spread. You'll likely need to keep your baby out of group child care until he or she is on a routine schedule. For more information about child care options, see the topic Choosing Child Care.
  • Hearing and vision screening. Premature infants are at greater risk of hearing loss. Those born at or before 30 weeks or weighing less than 1500 g (3.3 lb) are more likely to develop a vision problem called retinopathy of prematurity.
    • Your infant's hearing will have been assessed in the NICU. But be alert to new or increased hearing problems during your child's first 5 years of life.
    • Vision screening is recommended for infants born at or before 30 weeks, whose birth weight was below 1500 g (3.3 lb), or who have serious medical conditions. The first screening is recommended between 4 and 7 weeks after birth.1

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: January 14, 2014
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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