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
- 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.
Reviewed April 2014, next review April 2017
BMJ Best Practice (2011) Premature newborn care, treatment, step-by-step, http://bestpractice.bmj.com/best-practice/monograph/671/treatment/step-by-step.html