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Feeding Tips for Preemies

Bringing Your Preemie Home

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Anastasia's first year (2005)

Eating & Reflux (year 2, 2006)

Back to Sleep! (2007)

And Zane, Too (2008)

Allergies & Getting Big (2009)

Starting School (2010)

It's All Good (2011)

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Bringing Your Preemie Home

Unlike parents of full-term infants, parents of preemies often don't have their homes ready for a baby. The nursery may not be painted, the crib isn't put together, all those baby gadgets (swings, bouncers, crib toys) aren't out of their boxes yet...But now that you know you'll be bringing home a preemie, you might want to arrange things differently, anyway.


Sleeping Arrangements

For example, maybe you imagined your baby would sleep in her crib in her nursery, right from the start. But if you're feeling nervous about this plan now, don't be afraid to change it. When my preemie came home, she'd had so many scary bouts with apnea (lapses in breathing), we couldn't bring ourselves to let her sleep anywhere but right by our side. If you feel similarly, consider moving the crib into your bedroom, or try using a bassinet.

We used a co-sleeper, and I can't recommend them highly enough. Like a bassinet, but bigger (so your child can use it longer), this mini-crib attaches to the side of your bed. This means all I had to do when I wanted to check on my daughter in the middle of the night was open my eyes. I didn't even have to sit up in bed. I chose the "mini-sleeper" because the larger version would have made it difficult for me to get in and out of bed. (I'm short.) Here's the exact co-sleeper we used:


SIDS Precautions

And while we're talking infant beds, remember that preemies are at higher risk for dying from SIDS than full-term babies. Please be sure to follow all the guidelines for preventing SIDS. That includes not using sleep positioners. Although some parents scoff at SIDS guidelines, recent studies show that following these "rules" has reduced the number of infant deaths by SIDS.


Night Light

If you're like I was, and want to be able to easily check on your preemie at any time of night, I also recommend keeping the lights on. We put a red party light bulb in one of our bedroom lamps; it was dim enough it didn't keep us awake, but bright enough that I could get a good look at our daughter. Again, all I had to do was open my eyes to check on our girl.


Apnea Monitor

If you're given the option of coming home with an apnea monitor, I recommend using one. It's true that apnea monitors are notorious for screaming false alarms in the middle of the night (mostly due to loose connections...so make sure you put the thing on correctly), but I don't know how I ever would have slept if our daughter hadn't had one. There are rumors that some parents get so used to false alarms, they start ignoring them...but you won't be one of those people, right?

One vital thing to remember is to keep the apnea monitor on your baby at all times - unless she's in the bath. Don't get complacent. When we left the NICU, one of our nurses cautioned me: "Don't think you can remove the monitor just because you're holding the baby. We actually had a mom who - a few weeks after bringing her preemie home - fell asleep holding her child. She'd taken the baby's apnea monitor off, so there was no alarm to wake her when the baby stopped breathing. She woke in the morning to find a dead baby in her arms."

The company that rented us our monitor also cautioned that we should never fall asleep holding the baby - even with the device in place. They said the monitor could get confused by the parent's breathing, and not alarm for the baby.

Trust me, I know how easy it is to fall asleep comforting a baby in the middle of the night. But it's just not worth the risk. If you're that tired, please get someone else to take over for you.

Anastasia wearing her apnea monitor , shortly after she came home.

You can also buy "SIDS monitors;" these are mats you place under the baby's bedding that are supposed to sound an alarm if the baby's breathing stops. Personally, I wouldn't use one. For one thing, if there's a medical reason your preemie needs an apnea monitor, the doctors in the NICU will advise you to get one. And if your baby needs one, it's far better to get the real deal...not some inexpensive imitation. A real apnea monitor has little sensors that attach to your baby's body and are held in place by a band (usually made of foam). The band is held securely in place with strong Velcro. When attached properly, this type of monitor will work. I can't say the same for the inexpensive consumer SIDS monitors.


Baby Monitor

For naps, or for when your child finally ends up sleeping in his own room, I strongly encourage you to use a baby monitor. Right now it's popular to say monitors are an unnecessary expense, but as the parent of a preemie, a monitor will give you peace of mind. For example, I can't count the number of times our monitor alerted me to my daughter's reflux-related vomiting - something I never would have heard otherwise.

We use a video monitor, which I highly recommend. Just mount a camera high on the wall in your baby's room, and put the mini-tv in your own bedroom (or wherever you happen to be). You don't necessarily even have to use a video monitor meant for babies; an inexpensive surveillance system works great, too. It's also handy to have a small, sound-only baby monitor that allows you to go outside while your child sleeps. This is the portable monitor we used.


Medical Contact Sheet

Another thing that will save you lots of stress is to create a contact sheet for all your preemie's medical needs. List every doctor, county nurse, Early Intervention coordinator, therapist, lactation consultant, Social Security contact, insurance company contact, medical supply company, pharmacy, etc. you could possibly need for your child, along with corresponding phone numbers. Post it on your refrigerator (or on the wall next to the phone). Then, when you're sleep deprived and stressed, all you have to do is glance at the sheet to find the right number.


Discharge Papers

Another piece of paperwork you must have is your baby's hospital discharge papers. Don't neglect to get a copy of these, as you'll absolutely want them if your child's health declines once he is home. I know, I know, you don't even want to think about your baby going back into the hospital...but sometimes it happens. So, get a copy from the NICU, then make a few extra copies. Keep one in the diaper bag, another in your purse, and another in a filing cabinet or safe. Then, if any emergencies arise, whoever is tending to your child will have a good idea of your preemie's medical background.



Except for any medical equipment particular to your child (like a hospital grade breast bump or oxygen), anything else you'll need is all typical baby stuff...except for one small item: Hand sanitizer. Almost every preemie goes home with a warning that she should be kept away from sick people. And since "sick germs" carry so readily on hands, you, your family, and your friends will be doing a lot of hand washing. Trouble is, most people don't know how to wash their hands properly. (Wet them; soap them well; scrub the front and back of hands and wrists, in-between fingers, and under fingernails for at least a full 20 seconds; then rinse thoroughly and dry with a clean towel or paper towel.) That's why it's a good idea to have bottles of hand sanitizer around.

Keep one right by the front door, another in whatever room the baby sleeps in, another in the bathroom, and anywhere else that makes sense for your family. Then don't be afraid to tell friends and family to use the stuff liberally! Just be sure to keep the bottles out of reach of small children, since hand sanitizer is largely made up of alcohol, which can cause serious health problems in wee ones.


Rest & Help

Finally, try to get some rest. Bringing home any baby is stressful, but bringing home a preemie can be much more difficult. You'll handle it all much better if you're rested. Start by trying to have a little fun - and get a decent amount of sleep - before bringing your preemie home.

Chances are, the night before your baby comes home from the NICU will be a bad time to try to "catch up" on rest. Many NICUs insist parents spend one night in the hospital (to make sure they can care for their infant's unique needs). Our NICU actually let me stay at home the night before our daughter was discharged. (Heck, I'd been helping the nurses care for my child for nearly four months!) But it didn't do me much good. I was much too excited (and my husband, much too scared) to sleep well.

So take advantage of the days, weeks, or months your preemie is in the NICU by getting as much R & R as possible. (Easier said than done, I know.)

Then, once you have your child at home, recognize that you can't be the only one caring for her. Moms of full-termers can't easily do it on their own, and moms of preemies shouldn't even try. You'll be a better mom to your child if you get some rest, so recruit helpers as soon as possible. Never be afraid to take people up on their offers to help, and don't be afraid to ask friends and family to help out, either. You may feel that only you can care for your child's special needs, but that's just not the case. Almost anyone can change a diaper. Most people can learn to warm a bottle. Lots of people can help sooth a crying baby, or rock her to sleep, or wash her clothes. And lots of people can help by mopping your floors, cooking your dinner, or running your errands.

As someone who's been there and done that, trust me. You'll feel better about yourself and your world if you have helpers!