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Early days with your premature baby

The first few days after giving birth to your premature baby can pass in a daze. Here's what to expect...

Many women describe their early days with a new baby as having a dream-like quality. You are recovering from the birth, coping with a great deal of change - not to mention raging hormones - and may feel extremely tired.

If your baby is born prematurely, you have to cope with all of this without having had a chance to prepare yourself - either emotionally or practically. The birth may have come as a big shock, and you may also be coping with the realities of health problems for you or your baby.

Bonding with your premature baby

If your baby is in an incubator, you may find it harder than usual to bond with him - though this is not always the case. If you don't feel a connection with your baby at first, don't worry - just try to take each day as it comes.

You may worry because there may be a big difference between how you feel about your baby and how you think you 'should' feel about your baby.

If you are expecting to fall in love with him at first sight, you may feel very worried or guilty if you feel somewhat detached from the small creature lying in the incubator.

Try not to worry if you don't bond immediately. It takes many mothers some time to get to know and love their new baby - especially after a difficult birth. If your baby is in an incubator, then it may take you a little longer to connect with him, as so many other people need to be involved in his care. Kangaroo care can help with the bonding process and when your baby is stable this will probably be encouraged.

Read more about how to bond with your baby here.

The neonatal unit

The first time you see your baby in the baby unit, it may come as a big shock. The unit itself may seem like a space-age control room - very hot, with lots of flashing lights, beeping monitors and other mystifying pieces of equipment. Among all these are the incubators, each one containing a tiny baby.

Your tiny baby may be at the centre of a tangle of tubes, surrounded by equipment. Seeing him in this situation can be very distressing, and it is easy to feel very overwhelmed.

What your premature baby will look like

Your baby may also look quite different to what you had imagined. Newborn babies never look like the bouncing bundles that you see in the nappy adverts, but a baby born prematurely will be at an earlier stage of development, and so may look quite different to what you might expect. For example, they have very red skin, which may be covered in a fine down. Be reassured that these things are temporary. As your baby grows he will look more like the baby you had expected.

How your premature baby could look: different ages and stages

Premature newborn (24-28 weeks) Premature newborn (29-35 weeks) Premature newborn (35-37 weeks)
24-28 weeks

Weight: 1-3.5lb (450-1600g)

Length: 10-13in (25-33cm)

At this stage, your baby will be very thin, with fragile red skin covered with downy hair (lanugo). His head will look large, he will have soft skull bones, and a small face with a pointed chin and eyes fused shut.

29-34 weeks

Weight: 2-5.5lb (1-2.5kg)

Length: 12-14in (30-35cm)

Your baby will still be quite thin, and his skin will be slightly translucent and still covered in downy hair. In girls you may see tiny nipples. He may move quite vigorously and grasp your finger, and may be able to suck or lick, but he won't be ready to feed on his own.

35-37 weeks

Weight: 3.5-7lb (1.6-3.4kg)

Length: 15-18in (38-45cm)

By this stage, your baby will be much more robust and will look more like what you'd expect a term baby to look like. He may still be quite thin, with some hair, and he may still need extra help with feeding and breathing and staying warm.

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

Reviewed April 2014, next review April 2017


Bradford N (2005) Your premature baby: the first five years, Toronto, Firefly Books

Henderson D, Macdonald S (2004) Mayes Midwifery (13th edition), London, Balliere Tindall

Hunt F (2008) The importance of kangaroo care on infant oxygen saturation levels and bonding, Journal of Neonatal Nursing, Vol 14, No 2, p47-51

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