Preemies usually require special medical care. In the hospital, a new mother can feel that the baby belongs to the nurses, not to her. One special thing she can do when she visits her newborn is to provide skin-to-skin contact.
To give this contact, dubbed "kangaroo care," parents or grandparents can go to the ICU, sit in a reclining chair and hold the baby skin to skin for one to three hours at a time. It has been found that babies who have this type of contact have better temperature control and develop more quickly than babies confined to incubators -- and this also allows bonding with the baby.
Early Weeks at Home
When you finally bring your baby home, she is likely to weigh about four pounds instead of the usual seven or eight. Be aware that she'll have different eating and sleeping patterns from a full-term infant and will be more susceptible to illness. You should limit exposing your baby to outsiders and crowded environments.
How premature your baby is affects how she will develop. If your baby was born two months early, she is developmentally two months younger than her actual age. For example, at six months she'll behave more like a four-month-old.
When do preemies catch up? Sometime during the second half of the first year -- sooner, if the baby was only one month premature -- your baby will begin to develop more on target with his actual age. By age one, all preemies except those born more than three months early should be caught up. At any one time, however, your baby may be doing things at several different levels. And if your baby is on oxygen or has to be rehospitalized, she'll have less energy for development and may progress more slowly than other premature infants.
If you have concerns about your child's development, talk with your baby's healthcare provider or contact the early childhood intervention agency in your area for advice. Also read our article on Your Baby's First Year.