The early babies

The early babies
Premature babies have become a common phenomenon in the country currently. A premature infant is a baby born before 37 completed weeks of gestation. Mothers with health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure may contribute to preterm labour and about 15 per cent of all premature births are known to be multiple pregnancies (twins, triplets).

Having a preterm baby impacts the mothers psychologically; they often tend to feel guilty as their breasts may not produce enough milk because of less hormonal stimulation in their body. But what the mothers do not realise is that the premature baby would require less amount of milk and the same produced by the mother is sufficient.

Breastfeeding is vital for every baby for the first six months. Breast milk has important ingredients that help build the baby’s immune system. These ingredients are not found in any instant formula in the market. Breast milk changes for every feed to suit the baby’s unique needs, making it the perfect food to promote healthy growth and development. Breastfed babies are rarely constipated and are less likely to get diarrhoea.

A premature baby finds it hard to suck  breast milk as this demands lot of energy. In such cases, babies should be fed breast milk using a bowl and a spoon. The mothers have to be taught on how to express breast milk manually or with a breast pump. Bottle and nipple feeding should not be encouraged as the baby can get used to this and later find the natural process difficult.

In addition, the babies have to be protected from various other infections by maintaining proper hygiene. They also need to be kept warm right after birth.   They should be dried thoroughly and placed on their mother’s chest after the umbilical cord has been clamped and cut, with skin-to-skin contact, until after the first breastfeed, especially for babies born at term with good birth weight.

Most babies will breathe normally after thorough drying. Those who do not start breathing on their own need help. Ventilation with a bag and mask will usually put them back on track. With good medical care, timely feeds, strict hygiene and good post-discharge care, premature babies can beat all odds.

(The author is obstetrician & gynaecologist, Fortis Hospital, Bengaluru)
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