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.
Some surgical procedures can be done under local or regional anaesthetic, while others will require general anaesthetic. At times you may face difficult situations, especially if your baby is very sick and emergency surgery is required to try and safe his life.
Giving consent for surgery
The surgeon will explain to you the risks of any operation, and you will be asked to give consent after weighing up the pros and cons. Ask as many questions as you can think of – the team will be happy to explain anything that you might be worried about or that you have not understood properly.
The unit will give you details of its consent policy. The responsibility for taking difficult decisions about giving, withholding or withdrawing intensive care therapies lies with the consultant, but they will always act to promote a care pathway that is in the best interests for your baby and will seek your agreement before making such decisions.
The unit will give you details of its consent policy. The responsibility for taking difficult decisions about giving, withholding or withdrawing intensive care therapies lies with the consultant, but they will always seek your agreement before making such decisions.
If you disagree with the medical team, it is important to raise this early on so that they can work with you to find a resolution. Sometimes this will be resolved through more discussion, the bringing in of a trusted family member or friend to help with talking, seeking a second independent medical opinion, use of a clinical ethics committee, but ultimately the courts can be called upon to determine what is in the best interests for a child.
In some cases the team may need to take an emergency life-saving decision when they are unable to contact you and there is a duty for them to do so.
Pain relief for premature babies
Many premature babies have to experience many different interventions that may be uncomfortable or painful, so they need to be given pain relief. This can involve drug therapy and/or non-medical means such as:
- milk feeds
- sugar solution.
You may find it very distressing to think that your baby may be in pain. You can help by being vigilant – if you see anything that looks like it might be sore or chafing, or if your baby seems distressed in any way, mention it to one of the team.
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.
We answer some of your questions about your premature baby's time in the hospital and neonatal unit.
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.
- London NHS England (2013) NHS Contract for Paediatric Surgery: Neonates, http://www.england.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/e02-paedi-surg-neon....
- British Medical Association, Parental responsibility (accessed 28 July 2014) BMA, http://bma.org.uk/-/media/files/pdfs/practical%20advice%20at%20work/ethi....
- Department of Health (2009) Reference Guide to Consent for Examination or Treatment, Second Edition,London https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/fil.... 
- American Academy of Pediatrics et al (2006) Prevention and Management of Pain in the Neonate: An Update’, 'Pediatrics 118', no. 5
ℹLast reviewed on April 1st, 2014. Next review date April 1st, 2017.