When you’ve finally brought your premature baby home, it’s a very exciting moment. You’ve been waiting days, even months to bring home your bundle of joy. Though the excitement is palpable in your home, for many families, it can also be a little frightening or overwhelming.
Discharging a premature baby from the hospital is not an isolated event. It’s a process with varying time limits. Infants are discharged anywhere from two to four weeks before their original due date for various reasons. Some infants undergo serious surgery shortly after their birth, and need time to recover. Some are born with defects or health problems that need time to be resolved in our Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), which is ranked among the top 5 NICUs in the country by U.S News & World Report. Often, infants will need to spend weeks on breathing machines which supply them the oxygen they need to continue developing. In all cases, it’s important to be prepared for the adjustment when it’s time to take them home:
- Breastfeeding is going to be the best source of nutrition for your baby. I recommend practicing with your lactation consultant before being discharged. Additionally, some babies may require extra calories that can be added to your milk, like premature formula.
- Make sure you are aware of any medications your baby may need and how to administer them. If you are discharged with medical equipment, make sure you and any caregivers know exactly how to operate it and perform minor repairs.
- Make sure you can recognize when your baby’s health is deteriorating or he/she is getting sick. In the same regard, washing your hands frequently is one of the most powerful ways to prevent infections and illness.
- Friends and relatives will be eager to meet and hold the baby, but if they are or have experienced a contagious infection or illness, even a minor cold, it would be best to just send pictures and video until they are healthy. Skype and FaceTime are great ways to introduce your preemie to the family.
- Research, visit, and follow-up with pediatricians who have experience treating premature babies. You need to be sure that your baby is on track to reach their developmental milestones as preemies are more often at risk for developmental delays or other health problems.
- Immunizations are a necessity for every child, but preemies will need additional immunization for a virus called RSV. It’s required to prevent a serious lung infection in premature babies younger than 29 weeks. Additionally, family members need to be up-to-date on vaccines as well.
- Ensure that you and your baby have easy access to all the right specialists. Extremely premature babies may require an early intervention specialist for physical, occupational, and speech therapy. If your child is discharged on oxygen or an apnea monitor, a pulmonologist will need to follow up with your baby in order to adjust breathing medication and oxygen dosage.
Before you’ve been discharged from the NICU and prepare to take your baby home, it’s imperative to devise a plan for their care as they transition to living at home. It’s important to make sure that you and the baby’s other care providers, have received all necessary training provided by the NICU staff.
Preparing the other children you may have at home, is also essential in creating a smooth transition. They will play a crucial role in your preemie’s life and should be prepared for their arrival. As always, spending quality time with all your children will help eliminate feelings of exclusion by older siblings. With all this in mind, you should be prepared to bring your newborn home for a stress-free transition.