Your first weeks with a premature baby will very likely take place in a special care baby unit or neo-natal intensive care unit. The baby may sleep in an incubator at first, in which the environment can be closely controlled, and where it can be closely monitored. You may see other babies in open cots, where their parents can access them better. This does not mean that they are getting preferential treatment, but that they do not require such close attention.
Unless you live near the hospital, you will need to commute there on a daily basis. At first, your baby may not be strong enough to breastfeed or bottle-feed, in which case they will be fed through a tube inserted into their nostril. However, in general, parents are still encouraged to undertake these feeds, and you should be ready to visit several times a day, or to stay for the whole day.
Bringing a Baby Home
Once the tube is no longer needed, the baby will need to be fed at least every three hours. Do not stress out about feeding overnight – you also need sleep, and the baby can tube-feed while you sleep.
Before the baby can come home, you will need to spend at least 24 hours caring for the baby at the unit. You may also be required to undertake resuscitation or other parenting training.
Once the baby comes home, things may not become easier, but the worst is over: You no longer need to visit the hospital daily, you no longer need jump at every beep from the oxygen saturation monitor, and best of all, you can start to trust your instincts.
Caring for the Baby
The first weeks with a premature baby needn’t break the bank. There is a great temptation to rush out and buy all kinds of gadgets, and to decorate the baby’s room, and buy lots of toys. But for the first six months the baby will be in your room, it’s too young to appreciate toys, and the only things it really needs are lots of time with you, food, and warmth. So you’ll need blankets and a cot or bassinet; clothes (but remember that the baby will grow fast), nappies, and bottles, etc. If you are bottle feeding. And that’s about it! Every parent finds things that they feel they couldn’t have lived without, but those are different for everyone; so put off all other purchases until you’ve had a few days with the baby, and have some kind of idea of his needs and how your lives will change