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Why has my baby been born early?
Not all pregnancies go smoothly. Every year some babies are born prematurely or preterm, before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Preterm is only used to describe those babies born more than three weeks early. Forty weeks is the ideal time for a baby to spend developing in the womb.
We don’t always know why a baby is born preterm. We do know that the chance of an early birth is higher if you are carrying twins or triplets.
The outcome for a preterm baby depends on how early they are born. The overall outcomes for premature babies are good but there are risks to being born too early.
Why does my baby look different?
You may feel worried because your baby might not look like you expected. Premature babies can look very different to those born at term. They can have fragile red skin covered with downy hair (called lanugo). However, even babies born more than 12 weeks early have eyelashes and fingernails. They can cry, open their eyes and respond to sound and touch.
It may be helpful to look at the photos of other babies who have been on the unit, so you can see how quickly they progress.
What does the equipment do?
Depending on your baby’s health they may need a variety of equipment to help them to progress. Here is a brief explanation of some of the terms you may hear:
- An incubator is a clear, perspex-covered cot. It allows us to see your baby easily and provides extra warmth and humidity, if necessary.
- An open incubator with an overhead heater also provides extra warmth but makes it easier for you to touch your baby. This is generally used for bigger babies.
- A ventilator helps your baby to breathe through a tube that goes through your baby’s mouth or nose and down into the windpipe (endotracheal tube). Monitoring equipment allows us to check on their condition without disturbing them.
- A continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine helps your baby to breathe by providing a continuous flow of air or oxygen through soft prongs into their nose.
- A heated and humidified high-flow nasal cannula device provides a high flow of warm moist air or oxygen through small nasal prongs into your baby’s nose.
- A naso/orogastric tube is a soft plastic tube passed through the nose or mouth into the stomach for feeding and the removal of air or stomach juices.
- A long line is a special plastic tube inserted into a vein. They are used to deliver special medicine and nutrition.
- An umbilical line is a special plastic tube inserted into an umbilical vein or artery. The end of the tube lies outside the heart in a large vessel. They are used to deliver special medicine and nutrition or to monitor your baby´s well-being.
- A cannula is a small plastic tube that is inserted into a blood vessel using a needle. It can be attached to a drip or used to deliver medicines.
- A phototherapy device produces blue or white light which reduces the jaundice level.
If we need to use any of this equipment we will explain it to you. Please don’t be afraid to ask your nurse if you need further information.
How long will my baby be on the unit?
Premature babies usually go home at, or slightly before, the date they were due to be born. This means that if your baby is born six weeks early, it could be six weeks until he or she goes home. By the time they go home, babies will be feeding well, gaining weight and sleeping in a cot.
If your baby was not premature but needed extra medical care on the unit after birth, they will be discharged when they are well enough to go home.
Can parents stay on the unit?
If your baby is at our Brighton hospital and you do not live locally, you may be able to stay in the nearby Ronald McDonald House or the Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital. This accommodation is free (you need make a returnable deposit) but it is limited, so there may be a waiting list. View a tour of the Ronald McDonald facilities.
We also have two comfortably furnished bedrooms with toilet facilities on the unit. These rooms function as a transition to home with support from neonatal staff. They are mainly used for parents to establish feeding and to room in with their baby a few nights before discharge. Sometimes they are also used in an emergency for families who have been transferred overnight.
At the Princess Royal Hospital site we are unable to accommodate parents on the ward during their stay. We do have a furnished bedroom for parents to use when establishing feeding and for a few nights before discharge.
Will my baby need follow-up care?
Most babies born early will achieve their developmental milestones according to how early they were born. For example, a baby born two months prematurely may start to sit at eight months old rather than six months.
All babies develop at slightly different rates. Most premature babies will catch up with other children by the time they are about two years old. Unfortunately, babies born very early are at risk of developmental delay. We carefully monitor progress in babies born before 33 weeks, so we can identify any delays early and get the right help for you and them.
For babies not born prematurely, we will let you know if we recommend follow-up after discharge.