Your premature baby: tests and immunisations

During their stay in the baby unit, your baby will have all kinds of checks to monitor their progress.

Some are to investigate illness and see how they are developing, some are screening tests which check for certain conditions that benefit from being detected early in life, while others are needed to give your baby the best possible immediate care. Some tests will involve bloodspot tests, which are done by gently pricking your baby's heel and squeezing out a drop of blood.

Screening tests for premature babies

These include:

  • hearing and vision tests
  • tests to check blood group
  • screening tests for diseases that are rare but are important to diagnose soon after birth because early treatment can lessen the symptoms of the disease (all babies in the UK are tested for the same rare diseases according to a national guideline) 
  • checking how much oxygen and carbon dioxide is in the bloodstream to find out how well your baby’s lungs are developing and to check on how they are breathing and that the help that they are receiving with breathing is adequate
  • tests to check levels of glucose, salts, calcium and other minerals, to ensure your baby is getting all the nutrition they need 
  • check their levels of urea and electrolytes to find out how well their body is working
  • tests to check bilirubin levels, which indicate jaundice
  • ultrasound scans to check that brain, heart and other organs are developing properly.

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.

All this information put together will enable the let the healthcare team to deliver the best possible care to your individual baby.

Immunisation for your premature baby

It is very important that children follow the national immunisation programme. This ensures they get injections at specific points in babyhood and childhood to protect them from certain diseases that can be dangerous but which are preventable such as measles or some forms of meningitis. and pneumonia It also protects everyone else in society by reducing the amount of disease in the general population. You will receive letters in the post inviting to you to take your child along to the local health centre at the right time for each of the immunisations. If your child was very premature then the first immunisation will be offered while they are still on the neonatal unit because it should happen eight weeks after birth regardless of age at birth.

Your premature baby will need to receive vaccinations after birth at the same number of weeks / months after birth as a term baby – even though they will be developmentally younger – because they will be more at risk from disease than a term baby, as their immune system will be less mature.

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

The baby unit

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 they need you too. As you get to know your premature baby, you will begin to work out what they need.

  • 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

Sources

  1. Macdonald S and Magill-Cuerden J (2012) Mayes’ Midwifery, Fourteenth Edition, Edinburgh: Bailliere Tindall Elsevier
  2. WHO (2003) Managing Newborn Problems, A guide for doctors, nurses and midwives’, World Health Organization, Dept. of Reproductive Health and Research; United Nations Population Fund; UNICEF
  3. PHE (accessed 7 Oct 2016) CPD for screening, Newborn Blood Spot, Public Health England. http://cpd.screening.nhs.uk/newbornbloodspot
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Last reviewed on October 6th, 2016. Next review date October 6th, 2019.

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