Caring for your premature baby at home

Your premature baby is home at last and now it's up to you to make sure he's fed, warm, washed and happy... Not to mention getting him to sleep at night!

Your premature baby is home at last and now it's up to you to make sure he's fed, warm, washed and happy... Not to mention getting him to sleep at night!

In many ways, caring for your premature baby at home may not be so different from how you had imagined life with a new baby. You will have plenty of time to cuddle and play with him and watch him respond to everyday things he won't have experienced in the baby unit - a breeze, sunlight, the smell of a flower or your dinner in the oven.

Adjusting to life at home with your premature baby

Many families relish the return to the privacy and comfort of their own homes. You can start to care for your baby in your way, and it can feel as if 'real' family life can finally begin. However, it will also be a big adjustment for all of you. If your baby needs extra care - for example for breathing difficulties - you may feel very let down by general parenting books and websites, as they may not reflect your experience. However, they may still offer helpful advice with tips about feeding, sleeping routines and other aspects of life with a baby.

The correct temperature

You need to make sure that you keep your baby at a temperature that is comfortable and safe. The best way to do this is usually with layers - for example, a vest, a sleepsuit and blankets or a zip-up sleeping bag as necessary. You can easily add or remove an item depending on how warm or chilly the surroundings are.

If you're not sure how much you need to wrap your baby up, ask a member of the healthcare team. He may get cold very quickly - especially if left undressed, for example after having a bath - but high temperatures have been linked with cot death (see sudden infant death syndrome below), so it's equally important not to overload his cot with blankets.

Helping your baby sleep

Now that your baby is at home, you may find out that he didn't sleep as much as you thought at night when you weren't there! You can help your baby develop good 'sleep hygiene' by doing things such as providing a quiet, dimly lit environment at night time. In the early months, however, there's only so much that you can do, because babies get hungry. Also, the smaller the baby, the more often they need to feed. Developing a good night's sleep for you and the rest of your family may be a long-term project.

Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), also known as cot death

This is a syndrome in which apparently healthy babies die in their sleep, usually during the first six months of life. Premature babies are at higher risk for slightly longer than term babies. It's still not known exactly what causes SIDS, but we do know a number of things that help reduce it. Since the following guidelines were put in place in 1991, the number of cot deaths has reduced drastically.

Tips for reducing cot death

  • Lie your baby on his back, unless your healthcare team has advised otherwise, with his feet at the bottom of the crib.
  • Use lightweight blankets - never duvets or pillows, Keep bedding away from your baby's face, and tuck it in firmly.
  • Make sure no one smokes in the house.
  • Keep your baby in your room for the first six months, in his own crib.
  • Never fall asleep with your baby on the sofa or in your bed, especially if you're very tired or have been using alcohol, drugs or medication, or if your baby was premature or small at birth.
  • Make sure your baby rests well away from radiators or heaters and out of direct sunlight.
  • Keep the room at 16-20oC (61-68oF), but ideally at 18oC (64oF).

Washing your premature baby

How often you wash your baby will depend on how premature he is and the condition of his skin. For most babies - whether premature or term - plain water is fine for the first few months of life. This includes at nappy changing - initially you should just use water and soft cotton wool.

Caring for dry skin

If your baby has dry skin, don't use any kind of moisturising product without asking your healthcare team for advice. You can gradually start introducing gentle baby products and wipes as your baby becomes older and his skin more robust.

Top and tail: When you wash your baby, use only water. You don't need to give him a bath every day, it is usually enough just to 'top and tail' – using cotton-wool balls soaked with tepid water to wash his bottom, face and neck.

Snuggle him dry: When your baby's skin is wet he will become cold very easily. Each time he becomes damp and dries off, he loses some body heat. Always wash him in a warm, draught-free place, and have a towel close by to wrap him in and dry him afterwards.

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

Read more

  • Your premature baby's digestion

    Your premature baby's digestion

    If your premature baby is unwell or is suffering from discomfort such as constipation, colic or reflux it's important to seek expert advice.

  • The letters FAQ written on black chalkboard.

    Taking your baby home FAQs

    The early days at home with your premature baby can be a steep learning curve, especially if he still needs support with breathing or feeding. We answer some of your questions.

  • Baby with hearing aid.

    Health problems and disability

    Premature babies are more susceptible to certain health problems than term babies, so your healthcare team will take special care when assessing your child's development.

  • Woman with her baby in doctor's office.

    Growth and development after prematurity

    Premature birth can affect the way your child develops. Assessments from your healthcare team are crucial in ensuring that your baby gets the right care.

  • Prematurity

    Illnesses in a premature baby

    Most babies have to fight colds and tummy bugs. The good news is that each infection your baby gets will strengthen his immunity.

  • Premature baby at home.

    Going home with colostomy or ileostomy

    If your baby had severe problems with his gut, he may have had a colostomy or ileostomy while he was in hospital.

    Last reviewed on April 1st, 2017. Next review date April 1st, 2020.

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    Please note that these comments are monitored but not answered by Tommy’s. Please call your GP or maternity unit if you have concerns about your health or your baby’s health.
    • By Anusha (not verified) on 11 Aug 2019 - 17:39

      Hi, Could you tell me for how long can I let my premature baby sleep in between her feeds at night? Current weight is 2.1 and he's 2 and a half months now from the time he was born at 30 weeks.

    • By Merry (not verified) on 25 Jun 2019 - 12:04

      My baby was born 28 week's ,his birth weight 1.1and now his weight 1.9 age 2months16days.I give brestfeed milk and he sucking well.What should do for weight gain please advice me.

    • By Mercy (not verified) on 15 Jun 2019 - 15:04

      My baby was born at 33 weeks and weigh 2.7kg at birth. he is now 7 weeks and weight 3.3kg. is it normal?

    • By Anonymous (not verified) on 23 Apr 2019 - 16:46

      My baby is a 32 weeks premie and now 3.5 months old. Can we give him tummy time? How much tummy time is important for him?

    • By long range baby... (not verified) on 22 Feb 2019 - 10:43

      hello thanks for the information

    • By Sihle (not verified) on 1 Jan 2019 - 20:57

      I gave birth at 27weeks premmie baby gal weight 1kg .how long can she stay in NICU

    • By Midwife @Tommys on 9 Jan 2019 - 15:45

      Hi Sihle
      The best people to ask this question to, are the nurses and doctors looking after your baby in the NICU as they know your babies full medical history and can estimate how much longer baby is likely to need to be an inpatient based on baby's clinical condition. Wishing her a speedy recovery. Tommy's Midwife

    • By Blessing (not verified) on 18 Nov 2018 - 11:12

      Hi, i am a mother of a 31-32 weeks preemie baby, shes still in NICU now, i cannot brestfeed her bcoz i have meds taken that are not good for babies. It is my first nd i hve no knowledge at all how to take care of my premature baby. I am afraid to feed her actually in a bottle i dnt know how to make her burp after feeding

    • By Midwife @Tommys on 19 Nov 2018 - 15:09

      Please don't worry. The nurses and midwives at your hospital will ensure that you know what to do before she is discharged from hospital. They will encourage you to fully care for her in NICU until she is big enough to go home. And remember that not all babies need to burp after every feed. We wish her and you all the best x

    • By Ambika N (not verified) on 6 Sep 2018 - 15:28

      How to care the premature baby at home? Give me some tips.

    • By Maha (not verified) on 3 Jun 2018 - 13:54

      My baby was was born 34w 3d and and weight was 1.994. Now its going to be a month and he weighs 2.265. I still find very difficult to feed him during day time as he jus sleeps and hardly breast feeds for 10 mins. Should i time every 2 hrs and feed him or let him cry and then feed him during day time??

    • By Midwife @Tommys on 4 Jun 2018 - 16:02

      Hi Maha, I am very reluctant to advise about feeding your tiny baby. Please take advice from your neonatal nurse if you are being visited at home or from your health visitor. They will have the information to give you and your baby the best possible care. Without seeing, assessing and weighing your baby I can't give reliable advice. Take care

    • By Anonymous (not verified) on 23 May 2019 - 21:14

      Hi I had the same problem, but I was advised to brest feed and bottle feed at the same time. As breast milk will help him with protection and immune system and bottle to gain body fat. Smaller the baby more often should be fed. Now my baby boy is nearly 5 years old and almost 128cm.

    • By Marie (not verified) on 14 May 2018 - 23:34

      Hi - how soon can I take the baby out for a walk? They have been home from the hospital for 3 days now. Thank you!

    • By Midwife @Tommys on 15 May 2018 - 10:00

      Hi Marie
      Congratulations on your new baby! What a lovely time for you all! Yes of course you can all go outside. Just make your first trip out somewhere not to far away so that you don't exhaust yourself.Maybe go for a walk down to the local shop or a lap around the nearest park. Just start off gently. And don't forget to take the nappy bag/wipes!
      All the best on your first adventure!
      Sophie,Tommy's Midwife

    • By Josephine (not verified) on 10 May 2018 - 15:46

      My baby was born at 29weeks and 2days...we spent 2 weeks in the NICU and where sent trying to do everything as told in the hospital but now my measure problem is my baby does not breast feed well ,sh can breast feed twice a day which is not good and most of the time I give her milk through a line...her weight is stuck at 1.3kg....what should I do for her to breast feed more in order to gain weight

    • By Midwife @Tommys on 11 May 2018 - 10:37

      Hi Josephine,
      It sounds like a very challenging time for you and your little one at the moment and a lot to be dealing with at home. It is fantastic that you are keeping up with the breastfeeding. The milk that you are giving her through her line, is this formula or expressed milk? If you are not already, it would be great if you are able to express milk to be able to keep up your supply to help the breastfeeding continue.
      I am wondering what support you are getting at home, are professionals coming to visit your and your baby? A community neonatal nurse would normally be coming to see your baby and check their weight and feeding on a regular basis. In addition your midwife and health visitor should also be seeing you at home to support you?
      There is a lot to support you with here, it maybe best if you are able to contact us on the pregnancy line for a chat or through email to talk further. Our email is [email protected] or our phone number is 0800 0147 800. We are here Monday to Friday 9-5pm.
      Best wishes,
      Tommy's midwives

    • By Vikas Singh (not verified) on 6 Jun 2019 - 15:11

      Hii I my baby in nicu today's 6th day I want to discharge from hospital how to manage at home plz guide me

    • By Jessica (not verified) on 29 Apr 2018 - 03:26

      Is it normal for premies crying a lot at night? How can i help her go to sleep easily?

    • By Midwife @Tommys on 30 Apr 2018 - 14:03

      Hi Jessica, Yes all babies will wake at night and many cry lots too. Prem babies still have small tummies and will need to be fed more often than a bigger baby. Try to get some rest during the day to help you cope at night but if you have concerns please do speak to your health visitor who is there to help you.

    • By Sue (not verified) on 27 Apr 2018 - 07:43

      Hey what should I do to clear the congestion coz baby isn't breathing well

    • By Midwife @Tommys on 27 Apr 2018 - 09:16

      Hi - Thank you for your message. Newborn babies can be a bit 'snuffly' - but if you are concerned about baby's breathing or worried baby isn't well, please get in touch with your GP or midwife asap.

    • By Richard (not verified) on 18 Mar 2018 - 19:09

      My baby was born 27 months and weight was 1.150kg how long will she stay in NICU

    • By Midwife @Tommys on 20 Mar 2018 - 13:48

      Hi Richard,
      Thanks for posting. That is a difficult question to answer as there are so many variables. How has she been since birth. Is she needing help with breathing? Has she got any problems she has been born with on top of the prematurity? Has she had any infections?
      Your little girl has a lot of growing to do and if she is needing addition care in NICU it may be too early to have a plan as to when to expect her home. Ask the doctors and nurses caring for her about a rough time frame as to what to expect.
      Download our app too to help in these confusing early day with a baby born early. It is a really shock and a challenge for Parents and you need lots of support.
      I hope this helps and congratulations on the birth of your little girl
      Anna-Tommy's Midwife

    • By Neo Charlotte (not verified) on 6 Feb 2018 - 10:20

      I just want to know how to take of premature babies & feed her?

    • By Midwife @Tommys on 7 Feb 2018 - 11:53

      Hi Neo Charlotte
      It is a little unclear what it is that you are asking. Please feel free to call us on 0800 0147800 if you wish to talk through your concerns! If your baby is in NICU and you are unsure of perhaps how to feed your baby, then you can ask a nurse caring for your baby.
      We look forward to hearing from you
      Sophie,Tommy's Midwife

    • By Mo (not verified) on 28 Dec 2017 - 22:59

      What are some tips for getting my preemie to sleep better on his back? I have come to realize that he sleeps better on his stomach. He did this a lot in the NICU. I only allow him to sleep on his stomach if I am watching him.

    • By Midwife @Tommys on 3 Jan 2018 - 14:53

      Hi there Mo.
      Here are a couple of links that will give you more detailed information about preemies and sleep position for them. The general advice is that it is always best to put babys to sleep on their back, even though iften they have spent a lot of time sleeping of their fronts when being cared for in NICU. Please feel free to call or email if you need any further advice.
      Please take care

      Tommy's Midwife :)

    • By Anonymous (not verified) on 14 Nov 2017 - 07:38

      Can we give him early morning sunlight (in a tropical country like India - Asia)? Say, for 10 minutes - 8am (Winter months) - when the sun is not that harsh and rays are just slightly warmer?

    • By Midwife @Tommys on 15 Nov 2017 - 10:15

      Hi, Thank you for your comment.
      It is advised that you keep babies out of the direct sunlight and keep them in the shade between the hours of 11am and 3pm. Make sure they have a high factor sun cream on with also a hat. In the morning the sun is not at its strongest and when you are out and about avoiding sunlight can be difficult at times. You can take your baby outside but make sure shade is available and if your are wanting to do this to keep baby warm then another layer of clothing or a blanket would work well. Hope this helps, best wishes Tommy's Midwives x

    • By Ify ann ihunwo (not verified) on 16 Sep 2017 - 22:24

      Thanks a lot you have eased my fears

    • By Midwife @Tommys on 18 Sep 2017 - 10:03

      Thank you for your comment - if we can help with any other queries or concerns please do not hesitate to contact us on our Pregnancy helpline 08000147800 or via email [email protected]

    • By Ntawu yusuf (not verified) on 4 Aug 2017 - 07:16


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