Updated October 2013
Your premature baby - tests and immunisations
During her stay in the baby unit, your baby will have all kinds of checks to monitor her progress. Some are to investigate illness and see how she's developing, some are screening tests (which check for certain conditions), while others are needed to give your baby immediate care.
Screening tests for premature babies
- hearing tests, which are offered soon after birth
- bloodspot tests, which involve gently pricking your baby's heel and squeezing out a drop of blood. These test for conditions such as phenylketonuria, cystic fibrosis, haemoglobinopathies and hypothyroidism.
Other checks for babies in the neonatal unit
In addition to the screening tests, most premature babies have the following:
- tests to check their blood group and save some blood in case a transfusion is necessary
- analysis of blood gases, to assess the levels of acid, oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood, which can indicate how effectively their breathing or oxygen therapy is working, and can identify problems with the lungs or kidneys
- tests to check levels of glucose, salts, calcium and other minerals, to ensure they are receiving all the nutrition they need
- analysis of levels of urea and electrolytes to check how well their body is working
- tests to check bilirubin levels, which could indicate jaundice
- ultrasound scans to check the brain, heart and other organs.
The team will pull all these results together with information from:
- your history of previous pregnancies
- your blood type (see rhesus incompatibility)
- any problems that were identified during antenatal screening
- information about the birth, such as what form of anaesthetic you were given and whether your baby showed signs of distress during labour and delivery.
If the results raise further questions, or if your baby shows signs that indicate a specific problem, then the team may advise further tests.
Throughout her stay on the unit, your baby will have regular physical examinations. Her weight and head size will be measured, and she will also need regular blood tests.
Immunisation for your premature baby
It is very important that children follow the national immunisation programme. This ensures they get injections at certain points in babyhood and childhood to protect them from certain diseases such as measles, which caused widespread death or disability in the past. It also protects everyone else in society, by reducing the amount of disease in the general population.
Your premature baby will need to receive vaccinations after birth at the same time as a term baby – even though she will be developmentally younger – because she will be more at risk from disease than a term baby, as her immune system will be less mature.
In this section
Your baby's time in hospital:
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The following organisations can give you more information about the topics covered in this section.
NHS Choices (accessed Sept 2011) Health A-Z, Vaccinations, Vaccines for kids, When to get your child vaccinated http://www.nhs.uk/Planners/vaccinations/Pages/Whentogetvaccinated.aspx