Some babies are born prematurely or might have special medical conditions that require a stay in the hospital’s neonatal intensive-care unit (NICU). Here is some advice to help parents through this challenging time.
Special beginnings – When your new baby has special needs
It’s a subject that is rarely discussed in pregnancy books or antenatal classes – the possibility that your baby might be born with special needs. Some babies are born premature, others may have a condition that that affects them physically or mentally.
These babies will need special care in hospital. In some cases, parents will know in advance of the birth that their baby will be born with a problem. But regardless, when your new baby has special needs it’s still difficult news to come to terms with. It’s normal to feel grief, anger, shock and even guilt. But there is support out there – ask your midwife or doctor to put you in touch with a social worker or counsellor to help you talk through your feelings. Do contact support groups as it’s useful to talk to parents of babies with the same condition. Getting the right information and support for your family will help you to cope through a challenging time.
Infants born with health challenges will usually need to say in hospital in the neonatal unit after the mother has gone home. If your hospital doesn’t have the facilities to care for your baby, they may go to a different hospital by road or by air. Mothers are encouraged to get to know the baby as soon possible after the birth, even if the baby is in an incubator.
As a parent, you can help to care for your baby by:
1. Providing and feeding expressed breast milk to your baby.
2. Providing skin-to-skin care/kangaroo care.
3. Providing comforting touch and comfort holding.
4. Helping with day-today care of baby such as nappy changing or bathing.
NICU: When your new baby has special needs
The length of a baby’s stay in neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) will vary from days to months and will depend on the baby’s size, prematurity and medical circumstances. Many babies will have easily treatable conditions and can be discharged back to you after a few hours/days of observation and care. These are a few reasons why a baby can be admitted to a maternity hospital’s neonatal services: The majority of babies in NICU are there because they were born weeks before their due date.
There are lots of reasons why babies are born prematurely and usually there is nothing that mothers could have done to prevent it. One in 10 babies are born early, and babies born before 34 weeks may need extra help with breathing, feeding and keeping warm.
Prematurity is the term used to describe when a baby is born early. For most women, pregnancy lasts around 40 weeks. Babies that are born between 37 and 42 weeks are considered full-term and babies born before 37 weeks are considered premature. Even if a woman does everything ‘right’ during pregnancy, she still can have a premature baby.
There are some known risk factors for premature birth. For example, one risk factor is having a previous preterm birth. Those women at highest risk of having a premature baby are those who have: previously had a premature birth, a multiple pregnancy or a certain uterine or cervical abnormalities.
When a baby is born prematurely, they will generally be taken immediately or very soon after birth to a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) or Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU). Then, depending on the baby’s gestation, birth weight or how sick they are, the baby can face days, weeks or months in hospitals. The chance of survival depends on the baby’s degree of prematurity and birth weight.
A full-term pregnancy is said to last between 37 and 42 weeks. Two thirds of babies born at 24 weeks gestation who are admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) will survive to go home. Ninety eight percent of babies born at 30 weeks gestation will survive.
When the baby is well enough they will be discharged from hospital and allowed to go home. Some babies need to go home with specialised monitors or equipment. Many premature babies will need extensive followup hospital appointments in the months and sometimes years following their discharge and will need to be referred for different therapies.
For further information:
The Irish Neonatal Health Alliance Facebook page
When your new baby has special needs you can help by:
Breastfeeding is essential for babies, so mothers are encouraged to provide their own breast milk. Breast milk contains proteins that help fight infection and promote growth. Although your baby might not be able to feed from your breast or a bottle at first, breast milk can be given in other ways – or frozen for later use. Begin pumping as soon after birth as possible. Aim to pump at least six to eight times a day, roundthe- clock. It’s important to do whatever must be done to ensure you and your baby’s well-being.
2. Your healing touch
Once your baby is stable, you will be able to hold him. The nurses will show you how to do this and your baby will benefit greatly from physical contact with you. Visit your baby to touch and hold him as often as possible. It is very important that both mother and father develop a healthy bond with their infant. Studies have proven that newborns who are held, spoken to, and treated lovingly are more likely to thrive. Hold your baby under your robe or shirt to allow skin-to-skin contact. Skin-to-skin contact helps to stabilise your baby’s temperature, heart and breathing rates.
3. Make sure you understand your baby’s special care at home
Before you bring your child home from the hospital, make sure you understand any special care instructions. Write them down if need be. You should rehearse any medical procedures with a nurse or doctor to be sure you are clear about what you need to do. Having another family member there while instructions are given can help you to remember the steps.
More like this:
20 tips to support your premature baby
Helping your premature baby
The first 72 hours