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The Needs of a Premature Baby

Photo by Dominika Roseclay from Pexels

What Does A Premature Baby Look Like?

It depends on the gestational age that the baby is born at. Preemies lack subcutaneous body fat and are usually very small with their heads largely out of proportion to the rest of their body. Depending on their gestational age, they may not have a finger or toenails and their ears appear to be paper-thin. Their skin colour is reddish and transparent. Their eyes remain closed for the first few days. The more premature the baby, the more noticeable these characteristics.

“Preemies look like little birds that fell out of their nest”

How Do Preemies Behave?

Each preemie is unique and different to the next, and each has different patterns of behavior. The smaller the preemie and the younger the gestational age at birth, the less physically active the baby will be. The behavior will also differ depending on the health of the baby, the complications that may be evident and what medication they are on.

Basic Needs From Birth to Full-Term

Your baby’s lungs might be underdeveloped and therefore the baby would not be able to breathe on it’s own.

The baby will be incubated with a tube connected to a respirator, or one of various other machines to help him breathe.

In some cases the lungs are developed but the baby still struggles with breathing on it’s own as it can not take in enough oxygen to fill the lungs. In such cases, the baby will be given extra oxygen to help him.


Because premature babies lack body fat needed to maintain their body temperature, they are placed inside incubators or radiant warmers are used to keep the babies warm.

Incubators considerably decrease the chance for infection as they completely surround the preemie, also minimizing the loss of water.

Radiant warmers are electrically warmed beds open to the air. These are used when the medical staff need frequent access to the baby for care.

Nutrition and Growth

Premature babies have special nutritional needs because they grow at a faster rate than full-term babies and their digestive systems are immature.

Neonatologists (paediatricians who specialise in the care of newborns) measure their weight in grams. Full-term babies usually weigh more than 2,500 grams (about 5 pounds, 8 ounces), whereas premature babies weigh 500 to 2,500 grams.

Breast milk is an excellent source of nutrition, but premature infants are too immature to feed directly from the breast or bottle until they are 32 to 34 post-al weeks old. Most premature infants have to be fed slowly because of the risk of developing necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), an intestinal infection unique to preemies. Breast milk can be pumped by the mother and fed to the premature baby through a tube that goes from the baby’s nose or mouth into the stomach.

Breast milk has an advantage over formula because it contains proteins that help fight infection and promote growth. Special fortifiers may be added to breast milk (or to formula if breast-feeding is not desired), because premature infants have higher vitamin needs than full-term infants. Some premature babies receive additional vitamin supplements, too. The baby’s blood chemicals and minerals, such as blood glucose (sugar), salt, potassium, calcium, phosphate, and magnesium, are monitored regularly and the baby’s diet is adjusted to keep these substances within a normal range.

Once baby is well, they start feeding by breast or bottle. In the beginning one feeding will be give via the NG tube and the next feeding via breast or bottle. The amount of breast/bottle feedings will be increased slowly until such time that all feeding can be taken by breast/bottle.

The premature baby face many obstacles. It organs need to grow up to a mature stage, until such time the baby needs help with the above. The baby is also prone to various infections and other set backs, that could delay the development of vital organs. If a baby contracts an infection, it will use all the energy it has to fight the infection, instead of using it to develop the organs.

As the baby grows and the organs mature, the baby will be taken off machines that help him. The golden rule is that babies should be able to go home once baby can breathe on his own and have no more medication or machines helping him with this function. This will be close to the due date. Baby also need to be able to take all his feeds by breast/bottle without having any problems, be at a desirable weight (around 2kg), and be able to keep his own temperature around 36.5ºC.

Photo by Dominika Roseclay from Pexels