A premature baby is one who is born before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy. With advances in medical technology, babies born as early as 23 or 24 weeks now survive and from 25 weeks the chances of a baby surviving and being perfectly healthy increase week by week.
A Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU) is specially equipped to care for ill or Early babies. The main problem for premature babies, especially those weighing under 1,500g (3lb 5oz), is Respiratory Distress Syndrome (RDS) or breathing difficulties. The lungs of a baby born too early do not produce surfactant, a vital substance which prevents the inner surface of the lungs from sticking together. Now, however, babies can be given artificial surfactant.
They will need to be cared for in an incubator to control their temperature, and may need feeding through a tube in their stomach. Premature babies can also have problems with jaundice and infections. There may seem little you can do to help if your baby is admitted to Special Care, but you can express your milk for them. If they are there for a long time, you might find that your milk supply diminishes. Try to put your baby to your breast even if they don’t feed. Once they are strong enough to feed properly, your supply should increase. See: ‘Your baby’s experience of birth/special care.’
“I just couldn’t cope. I just wanted to walk away. In fact, I did just that, but after I’d had space to think things over, I came back.”
Sue — baby born 29 weeks.
If you feel you can’t cope, ask for help from nurses, your family and friends, or from BLISS, the national charity for the newborn: BLISS parent support confidential helpline, is available on freecall: 0500 618140, Monday to Friday, 10.30am–4.30pm.