Premature babies often need time to catch up in both development and growth. In the hospital, this catch-up time may mean learning to eat and sleep, as well as steadily gaining weight. Babies may stay in the hospital until they reach the pregnancy due date. They may be cared for in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
Talk with your baby's health care provider about when your baby will be able to go home. In general, babies can go home when they:
- Have no serious health conditions
- Can stay warm in an open crib without added heat
- Take all feedings by mouth, maintaining their expected growth rate
- Have no recent periods of not breathing (apnea) or low heart rate
Before discharge, premature babies need an eye exam and hearing test to check for problems linked to prematurity. You must be able to give care, including medicines and feedings, before your baby can go home. You will also need information about follow-up visits with the baby's health care provider and vaccines. Many hospitals have special follow-up health care programs for premature and low-birth-weight babies.
Even though they are otherwise ready to go home, some babies still have special needs. This includes things such as extra oxygen or tube feedings. You will learn how to take care of your baby if they need these things. Hospital staff can help set up special home care.
Ask your baby’s health care provider about staying overnight in a parenting room at the hospital before your baby goes home. This can help you adjust to caring for your baby while providers are nearby for help and reassurance. You may also feel more confident taking your baby home when you know infant CPR and safety.
Premature babies are at increased risk for SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). You should always put your baby down to sleep on their back.