Babies born before the 37th week of gestation are born prematurely. Premature newborns are sometimes given the nickname, "preemies." Mothers who have their baby prematurely are often scared and nervous. It is true that premature newborns face an increased risk of having one or more complications. The risk of complications increases the earlier the baby is born. Any complications that a premature newborn experiences will be cared for in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Below is a brief description of what to expect when it comes to the care for your newborn preemie.
Why do premature newborns need special care?
A premature newborn is not fully equipped to deal with our world. Their little bodies still have areas that need to mature and fully develop. Some of these areas include the lungs, digestive system, immune system and skin. Thankfully medical technology has made it possible for preemies to get through the first few days, weeks or months of life until they are able to make it on their own.
A first glance at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)
The NICU is your newborns protected environment. It may also be his or her home for a while. Therefore it is a good idea to get acquainted and know as much as you can about it. You should know that it is equipped with a caring staff, monitoring and alarm systems, respiratory and resuscitation equipment, access to physicians in every pediatric specialty, 24 hour laboratory service and YOU!
When it comes to all of the equipment in the NICU it can be overwhelming and sometimes scary. Knowing what every thing does can help you relax and prevent you from being distracted.
Monitoring and alarm systems
Monitoring machines vary depending on the hospital you are in. Different hospitals use different equipment. However, all monitors monitor the heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure, and temperature. A pulse oximeter is another measurement that may be taken that measures the amount of oxygen in the blood. You may notice that your newborn has various sticky pads or cuffs on his chest, legs, arms or other body parts. These sticky pads and cuffs have wires that connect to the monitor which often looks like a television screen that displays lots of numbers.
*Alarm systems go off periodically in the NICU and it does not always indicate an emergency. In fact more often than not it is nothing to worry about. Therefore do not panic when you experience this and do not be surprised when everyone else does not panic.
Methods of respiratory assistance (Depends on the premature newborn's individual needs):
Endotracheal tube -- This is a tube that is placed down the newborns windpipe. It delivers warm humidified air and oxygen.
Ventilator -- This is also sometimes referred to as a respirator. This is the breathing machine that the endotracheal tube is connected to. It can monitor the amount of oxygen, air pressure and number of breaths.
Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (C-PAP) -- This method is used for preemies who can breathe on their own but just need some help getting air to their lungs.
Oxygen hood -- This is an actual clear plastic box that is placed over the preemie's head and is attached to a tube that pumps oxygen to the preemie.
Methods of feeding (Depends on the premature newborn's individual needs):
Intravenous lines -- This method carries nutrition directly into the blood stream. This method is used for premature babies who have immature digestive systems and are not able to suck, swallow and breathe in a coordinated manner. This method may also be used when treatment for other health complications is being implemented. An IV may be placed in the scalp, arm or leg.
Umbilical catheter -- This method involves a tube that is surgically placed into a vessel of the umbilical cord. Don't worry it is not painful. This method can carry potential risks (infection or blood clots) and therefore is used only for the most critical infants and with those who may need this type of feeding for several weeks. For these critical preemies, it is the safest and most appropriate way to supply nutrients.