Updated October 2013

Giving birth to your premature baby

After your premature baby is born

Whatever your premature baby's birth was like, it will have taken a lot out of you, so try to rest and gather your strength for the days ahead. The medical team will assess your baby's health and start treating him if necessary.

Coping after the birth: one day at a time

If your baby is very small or unwell, you may be feeling exhausted, emotional and shaken. You may also be frightened about what the future holds for him, and for your family. The best thing you can do for your baby is to look after yourself and ask for help and support.

Stabilising your baby

If your baby is premature, the time for cuddles will come, but first of all he will need to see the medical team. As soon as he is born, they will stabilise him which may mean they need to:

  • resuscitate him if necessary, including clearing his airways to allow him to breathe, proper head positioning, provision of warmth, drying him, appropriate stimulation, and assessment of breathing, heart rate, and colour.
  • for warmth they may place him on a heated trolley and put a little hat and warm blankets on him. If he is very tiny, they may zip him up in a plastic bag up to his neck.
  • help him to breathe if he is having trouble: they may put an oxygen mask on him, or may blow oxygen into his lungs using the mask. He may need to have a breathing tube inserted into his windpipe to help him breathe. This tube can also be used to take any fluids out of the lungs, and to blow medication called surfactant into the lungs.

Helping your premature baby's heart beat

If your baby's heart rate is less than 100 beats per minute, he will be given additional oxygen, or fluids through a drip (a needle inserted into a vein).

If his heart rate drops below 60 beats per minute, the team will need to carry out cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) - pumping the chest to push blood from the heart to the rest of the body. They may also need to give him fluids and medication through a drip.

Your premature baby's Apgar score

Once your baby is stabilised, the healthcare team will give him a thorough physical examination to confirm his gestational age and identify of any potential problems.

Your newborn will get an Apgar score between zero and ten to assess his health. The system gives your baby a score of zero, one or two in five areas:

  • heart rate
  • breathing
  • muscle tone
  • reflex (crying or moving away in response to stimulation)
  • skin colour.

The total figure is added up to provide a maximum score of ten, although babies seldom get the top score.

Premature babies often have lower scores because three key factors - muscle tone, colour and reflex - depend on the baby's gestational age.

What happens next

If your baby was born in a hospital that has the facilities for all his needs, he will be moved to the baby unit. If he needs specialist care that is not available in your hospital, he will be transferred to another hospital that has the facilities he needs. Read about transferring your premature baby here, and in utero transfer.


In this section


Your baby's time in hospital:

You can also read about

The following organisations can give you more information about the topics covered in this section.


Sources

BMJ Best Practice (2011) Premature newborn care, treatment, step-by-step, http://bestpractice.bmj.com/best-practice/monograph/671/treatment/step-by-step.html

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On this page

Coping after the birth

Stabilising your baby

Helping your premature heart beat

Your premature baby's Apgar score



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Feedback on health information

'My husband was late for the birth and didn't know why my baby wasn't crying, and why they'd whisked her away. But I'd done my research, so I knew that would happen.'

ELLA

'I didn't even get even a glimpse of him - he was delivered at 10am and I think I saw him at about 6pm. If you have pre-eclampsia there's still a risk of eclamptic seizure in the 24 hours after birth, so it was back to the monitoring as before. It was as if I'd had a baby but hadn't had a baby.'

JESSICA

'My husband and I resort to humour to keep our strength up. When we first saw Ellen she was in a plastic bag with a blue light on her, so we joked that she was on a sun bed at a beauty clinic. The nurses weren't quite sure what to make of it. I think they thought we were in shock.'

DIANE

DID YOU KNOW?

The Apgar score was designed by Dr Virginia Apgar in the 1950s and was a revolutionary way of assesing the health of a newborn baby.