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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Most babies have to fight colds and tummy bugs. The good news is that each infection your baby gets will strengthen his immunity.
If your baby had severe problems with his gut, he may have had a colostomy or ileostomy while he was in hospital.
ℹLast reviewed on April 1st, 2012. Next review date April 1st, 2015.
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