There are a few frequently asked questions that family and friends put to preemie parents. Sometimes it can be difficult to answer those questions, especially in the early days. Hopefully this list of frequently asked questions can help a little.

How many weeks early is a baby considered premature?

Any baby born before 37 weeks gestation is considered to be premature. Any baby born 27 weeks gestation or earlier is considered to be extremely premature. Babies born between 28 and 32 weeks are very premature. Babies born 33 to 36 weeks gestation are considered premature.

Why was he early?

There are so many reasons that a baby can be premature from spontaneous labour, pre-eclampsia, problems with the placenta, genetics or even an infection. Or like in my case a scan could pick up a problem and an early delivery is the best chance for survival. In many cases though the causes are unknown. This can be scary and daunting as you don’t know if it will happen again and as humans we tend to naturally fear the unknown.

For those that ask this particular question of the frequently asked questions be careful how you respond to the answer. It’s important for mum’s to realise that it wasn’t their fault, they are not to blame. This can be really hard to believe for some mum’s who convince themselves it must have been them who did something wrong.

First cuddle at 18 days old.
First cuddle at 18 days old.

Will he grow out of it?

This one can be tough to answer! Will preemies grow out of their prematurity? There is a point that medical professionals stop using a premature baby’s corrected age, so I guess they grow out of it. However being born premature can come with lots of issues which some preemies will have all their lives.

Don’t the nurses do it all for you?

I hated this assumption! Do you not think I want to be doing it all?! The nurses are amazing and look after your precious baby when you can’t. They monitor them, change their nappies, feed them, calculate their medication dosages, bathe them and comfort them. These incredible people really do have your back when you can’t be there for your baby.

You are actively encouraged to be as involved as possible as parents. Even though this question is usually asked in jest so it isn’t asked to intentionally hurt a preemie parent it is another reminder and you are not fully equipped to care for all your baby’s current needs.

A few who asked this question asked it with a hint of jealousy that they didn’t get this level of help with their new born. A preemie parent would happily not have to go through this experience!

How long do you use corrected age for?

With a premature baby you hear the term actual age and corrected age. Their actual age is easy enough, it’s the actual age of the baby. The corrected age is the age they would be if they had been born on their due date.

Opinions really differ as to when actual age should stop being used. However NHS guidelines state that once a child reaches 2 years old their corrected age is no longer needed.

Child playing with building blocks - Photography credit: Ryan Fields
Child playing with building blocks – Photography credit: Ryan Fields

Will he ever catch up?

Preemies do so much more before they are supposed to so in many ways they are more advanced! Being born prematurely can lead to many health and development issues. Born prematurely or not it’s important to remember that all children develop at different rates.

As mentioned above NHS guidelines state that when a preemie reaches 2 years old they should start catching up with children not born prematurely, it’s important to stress this is just a guideline!

Will he always be delayed?

See the answer to “Will he ever catch up?”

Can’t you just feed him more?

A lot of premature babies will start with tube feeds with an NG (Nasogastric) tube. Depending on how early they have arrived they may not have developed the instinct to suck yet.

My little boy couldn’t tolerate milk for the first 4 weeks of his life and survived on TPN (Total Parent Nutrition). When he could tolerate milk he could only have 1ml every few hours. The amount soon increased but it was very clear that he was setting the pace.

Will he always be small?

Not necessarily! These tiny, but mighty, fighters start off small but I have gotten to know parents who show off their full grown preemie babies who are certainly not small! Look at the boxer Tyson Fury who was born prematurely, he is certainly not small now.

This doesn’t mean all preemies will be big, the famous ballerina Anna Pavlova was very petite and also born prematurely.

My little boy has certainly caught up and is a solid little unit which I find incredible when thinking back to how fragile and small he looked at birth.

How much does he need to weigh to come home?

Weight is not the deciding factor for when a preemie can come home. The doctors and nurses will assess how well the baby is and what support they need.

For example: are there underlying health conditions? Do they need oxygen? Is help needed with feeds? Can they maintain their body temperature? Do they still require a lot of medication? There’s a lot more to consider than just weight!

Baby being weighed. Photography credit: Christian Bowen
Baby being weighed. Photography credit: Christian Bowen

Why can’t you breastfeed on demand?

A premature baby usually starts off with a feeding tube. Learning to breathe, swallow and suck is really tiring for little ones so the tube takes this task away so that they can save their energy.

When they are ready to move onto the next stage a dummy might be introduced when they are receiving their milk through the tube. This helps the baby to associate that sucking means they get a nice full tummy.

Then you might be able to move onto one bottle or breastfeed a day. Gradually this will increase until they can do all their feeds without a tube. The nurses tend to slowly build up the feeds until they are every 3 to 4 hours. Breastfeeding on demand isn’t possible in hospital as you can’t physically be in the hospital 24 hours a day. It is recommended that you either do bottle or breast feeds, especially in the early days, as switching between the two methods can be really confusing for the baby.

Once you get home you might find that it all changes and that feeding on demand will be no problem at all!

Can we all visit?

The frequently asked questions big one: can we all visit? Of course you can! However there are rules!!!

  • You can come when I invite you.
  • I will ask you to remove any outdoor clothing such as coats.
  • I will ask you to wash your hands and sanitise them.
  • Don’t all come at once!

Get in touch if you feel there are frequently asked questions missing from this list and I will add a few in!

Here is a good link to an NHS page with a lot of useful information about premature babies.