Giving birth to your premature baby

Giving birth is one of the most life-changing experiences you'll ever have, but it doesn't always go as planned, especially when your baby is premature.

If you have advance warning that your baby is coming early, you may have time to prepare for the birth and think about your birth plan and pain relief options. On the following pages, you can read about what happens when your baby is born early, from when to phone the hospital to how your little one will look and how you may feel.

It's important to be aware of the possible signs and symptoms of preterm labour as you may need to act quickly if you are in early labour in order to make sure your baby's birth is as smooth as possible. If you are in premature labour then your healthcare team may decide to delay the birth as it may be safer for you and your baby. Preterm labour is often slightly different to full-term labour - it may start by itself or could be induced if it seems a safer option. It is also common that premature labour is much faster and is over much more quickly. In some cases it may be decided that a caesarean is the safest option. In order to make premature labour as comfortable as possible for you there are numerous pain relief options which vary depending on your situation. 

The baby unit

  • Premature baby being held by mother.

    Practical tips for surviving the baby unit

    The best thing you can do for your baby is to look after yourself. That way, you will be better equipped to handle the challenges that face you and your family. Help is at hand from many sources - family, friends and the healthcare team in the special care baby unit - so don't be afraid to ask for what you need.

  • Premature baby using breathing apparatus.

    The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)

    The neonatal intensive care unit (NICU)/special care baby unit (SCBU)/neonatal unit becomes the centre of the universe for parents of premature babies, so it's important to familiarise yourself with the way it operates.

  • Sleeping premature baby in care unit.

    The first few 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...

  • Premature baby being tube fed.

    Transferring your premature baby

    If your baby is very young and very sick, he may need to be transferred to another hospital with specialist facilities. This might be done before he is born or just afterwards.

  • Premature baby in incubator.

    What happens just 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.

Caring for your baby

  • Mother holding baby to her chest.

    Kangaroo care

    Skin-to-skin contact with your premature baby is a wonderful way for you both to bond. It also provides health benefits.

  • Mother holding premature baby.

    Caring for your baby: your role

    The healthcare team will cater for your baby's medical needs, but she needs you too. As you get to know your premature baby, you will begin to work out what she needs.

  • Premature baby using feeding equipment.

    Feeding your premature baby

    Your premature baby's diet will be carefully balanced to suit their tiny digestive system while meeting the needs of their growing body.

  • Premature baby in incubator.

    Positioning your premature baby

    Positioning your premature baby correctly can make them feel secure, improve their breathing ability, strengthen their muscles and reduce the risk of cot death.

Treatment and medical support your baby may have

Last reviewed on July 1st, 2014. Next review date July 1st, 2016.

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