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Premature infants, known as preemies, come into the world earlier than full-term babies. Prematurity is when a pregnancy lasts less than 37 weeks; full-term infants are born 37 to 42 weeks after the mother's last menstrual period (LMP).

During an apnea spell, a baby stops breathing; the heart rate may decrease; and the skin may turn pale or blue. How can you best care for your premature baby?

Premature babies may have more health problems and may need to stay in the hospital longer than babies born later. They also may have long-term health problems that can affect their whole lives. About 1 in 10 babies is born prematurely each year in the United States.
Premature babies may have more health problems and may need to stay in the hospital longer than babies born later. They also may have long-term health problems that can affect their whole lives. About 1 in 10 babies is born prematurely each year in the United States.
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Premature babies require special attention. It begins in the NICU and continues with you at home. Learn more about preemie care and their special health concerns.
Premature babies require special attention. It begins in the NICU and continues with you at home. Learn more about preemie care and their special health concerns.
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Premature babies require special attention. It begins in the NICU and continues with you at home. Learn more about preemie care and their special health concerns.

Incubators are made of transparent plastic, and completely surround babies to keep them warm, decrease the chance of infection, and limit fluid loss. Radiant warmers are electrically warmed beds open to the air. These are used when the medical staff needs frequent access to the baby for care. Premature babies have special nutritional needs because they grow at a faster rate than full-term babies and their digestive systems are immature.

Neonatologists pediatricians who specialize in the care of sick full-term and preterm infants measure their weight in grams, not pounds and ounces. Full-term babies usually weigh more than 2, grams about 5 pounds, 8 ounces , whereas premature babies weigh anywhere from about grams about 1 pound, 1 ounce to 2, grams.

So, what are premature babies fed? Breast milk is an excellent source of nutrition, but premature infants are too immature to feed directly from the breast or bottle at first. Most premature infants have to be fed slowly because of their risk for necrotizing enterocolitis NEC , an intestinal infection that primarily affects 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. For women who can't provide breast milk or can't provide enough of it , doctors may recommend giving the baby pasteurized human breast milk from a milk bank, which is considered a safe alternative.

Formula also may be given to babies whose mothers can't provide breast milk and donor breast milk is not available. 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 formula because premature infants have higher vitamin and mineral needs than full-term infants.

Nearly all premature babies get extra calcium and phosphorus either by adding fortifier to breast milk or directly through special formulas for preemies. 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.

Some preemies who are very small or very sick cannot use their digestive systems to process food. These babies require intravenous IV feedings — called TPN, or total parenteral nutrition — made up of fats, proteins, sugars, and nutrients. TPN is given through a small tube inserted into a large vein through the baby's skin or umbilical stump. Premature infants are at risk for a number of problems , mostly because their internal organs aren't completely ready to work on their own.

In general, the more premature the infant, the greater the chances of complications. Many preemies don't have enough red blood cells RBCs to carry adequate oxygen to the body. This complication, called anemia , is easily diagnosed through lab tests. Preemies may develop anemia for a number of reasons. In the first few weeks of life, infants don't make many new RBCs. Also, a baby's red blood cells have a shorter life than an adult's.

And the frequent blood samples that must be taken for testing make it hard for RBCs to replenish. Some premature infants, especially very small ones, need red blood cell transfusions. Apnea is a common health problem among premature babies. During an apnea spell, a baby stops breathing; the heart rate may decrease; and the skin may turn pale or blue.

Apnea is usually caused by immaturity in the area of the brain that controls the drive to breathe. Almost all babies born at 30 weeks or less will have apnea. Our mission Fighting premature birth: The Prematurity Campaign About us Annual report. Our work Community impact Global programs Research. Frequently asked questions Contact us. Baby Caring for your baby Feeding your baby. Mission stories Ambassadors Spotlights. Our research Research grants Prematurity research Birth defects research Infant health research Prematurity research centers.

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Health problems that may affect premature babies include: This is a pause in breathing for 20 seconds or more. Premature babies sometimes have apnea. It may happen together with a slow heart rate. You'll always remember your baby's time in the hospital. Now cherish the opportunity to begin making memories at home.

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Understand your preemie's special needs If you have a premature baby, understand the challenges your preemie might face — and remember the importance of meeting your own needs. By Mayo Clinic Staff. References McInerny TK, et al. Discharge planning for the high-risk newborn requiring intensive care. Elk Grove Village, Ill.: American Academy of Pediatrics; What Every Parent Needs to Know.

Labor, delivery, and postpartum care FAQ American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

To measure your premature baby's development, use his or her corrected age — your baby's age in weeks minus the number of weeks he or she was premature. For example, if your baby was born eight weeks early, at age 6 months your baby's corrected age is 4 months. Premature babies require special attention. It begins in the NICU and continues with you at home. Learn more about preemie care and their special health concerns. Babies born early have their own set of challenges to face. And if you're parenting a preemie, you'll need specialized information on your baby's health, development, feeding, and care. You'll find all of that here, including our articles on premature babies and expert content from March of Dimes.

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