My baby looks so different from how I'd expected. Will that change?
Yes. Premature babies look a little different from term babies, as their bodies have not fully developed.
Your baby's skin may be very red and translucent, and the eyes, ears and genitals may not yet be fully matured. She may also have hairs on her skin that she will lose over time, and she may seem very thin. As she develops she will start to look more like a term baby.
The healthcare team keeps encouraging me to help with my premature baby's care, but she seems so fragile - what if I accidentally hurt her?
Initially you might be worried about handing your baby if she is very small and ill. However, your touch and care will help with her recovery and growth and your role in hospital is a very important one. Throughout your time at the unit, the team will encourage you to play an active role in your baby's care, and will show you how to carry out tasks, such as feeding, washing and changing her nappy. As you grow accustomed to handling her, your confidence will grow and you will worry less about hurting her.
If you are worried or do not feel ready, take things at your own pace. Try to talk through how you feel with the healthcare team. They may be able to help you develop your confidence.
The healthcare team has told me I should express milk during the night, but I'm so tired - is this really necessary?
If you want to keep up a good supply of milk, you need to be expressing eight to ten times a day, including once at night. That's around every three hours during the day. The amount of milk your body produces depends on the demand, and long periods without feeding or expressing may affect your supply. Unfortunately, that does mean waking to express during the night too.
Your baby's stomach starts off around the size of a small marble so the amount of milk you get will be small. You will need a more plentiful supply when she is older though so it is useful to have extra kept in the freezer, in case you cannot feed for a while (for example, if you become ill) later on.
I just can't get to grips with breastfeeding - is it supposed to hurt so much?
Breastfeeding should not hurt. You may feel a moment of discomfort when your baby starts sucking, but after that it should feel comfortable. If you are in discomfort, your baby may not be latching on correctly, so do seek advice quickly.
The more comfortable you feel, the more likely it is that you'll continue feeding for a longer period, so it's worth getting advice from a breast feeding counsellor in the hospital (ask a nurse to put you in touch with one), or if no one is available in the hospital, call one of the breastfeeding helplines listed here.
I don't feel that I'm bonding with my baby - is there something wrong?
Some women feel that they bond immediately with their premature babies, but many don't. There are many reasons that you might find it harder to bond with your baby while she is in the neonatal unit - both practical and emotional.
Try not to worry too much about how you think you 'should' feel, unless you are feeling extremely low, despairing or anxious - in which case do talk to someone you trust on the healthcare team. They may be able to reassure you or offer some form of additional support.
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The following organisations can give you more information about the topics covered in this section.
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.
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.
The first few days after giving birth to your premature baby can pass in a daze. Here's what to expect...
If your baby is very young and very sick, they may need to be transferred to another hospital with specialist facilities. This might be done before they are born or just afterwards.
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 them if necessary.
Skin-to-skin contact with your premature baby is a wonderful way for you both to bond. It also provides health benefits.
The healthcare team will cater for your baby's medical needs, but they need you too. As you get to know your premature baby, you will begin to work out what they need.
Your premature baby's diet will be carefully balanced to suit their tiny digestive system while meeting the needs of their growing body.
Positioning your premature baby correctly can make them feel secure, improve their breathing ability, strengthen their muscles and reduce the risk of cot death.
You may be asked if you would consider taking part in research into premature birth. We explain what this might involve.
You're bound to feel anxious if your premature baby needs surgery, but try to focus on the positive: the operation is likely to help improve your baby's chances.
During their stay in the baby unit, your baby will have all kinds of checks to monitor their progress.
If your premature baby has any of the conditions below, ask the healthcare team to explain anything that you don’t understand.
Babies born prematurely are more likely to have problems with their eyesight and hearing, but in most cases treatment is successful.
Premature babies have less developed immune systems and are more susceptible to infection, but there are ways to reduce the risk.
It's worrying if you discover that your baby has a heart problem, but most defects are treatable and some do not even need treatment.
Many premature babies need help with breathing for a while. This is known as ventilation.
- Conde-Agudelo A, Belizán JM, Diaz-Rossello J (2011) Kangaroo mother care to reduce morbidity and mortality in low birthweight infants, Cochrane Review, Cochrane Neonatal Group, Cochrane Library, Wiley Online Library
- Fohe K, Dropf S, Avenarius S (2000) Skin-to-skin contact improves gas exchange in premature infant, Journal of Perinatalogy, Vol 23, p311–15
- Feldman R, Eidelman AI, Sirota L, Weller A (2002) Comparison of skin-to-skin and traditional care: parenting outcomes and preterm infant development, Pediatrics, Vol 110, No 1, p16–26
- GOSH (2010) Breastfeeding and expressing milk, Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Trust: Information for Families
ℹLast reviewed on April 1st, 2014. Next review date April 1st, 2017.