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Caring for a Premature Baby: What Parents Need to Know

Nov 17, 2021 10:00AM ● By Boitumelo Masihleho
pregnant Black lady standing and holding her belly

World Prematurity Day is acknowledged on November 17th to raise awareness of the challenges and burden of preterm birth globally. The day was initiated by The European Foundation for the Care of Newborn Infants (EFCNI) and partnering European parent organizations in 2008. One in 10 babies is born prematurely worldwide, but there are disparities among races.

Premature or preterm birth is when a baby is born too early, before 37 weeks of pregnancy have been completed. In 2020, preterm birth affected 1 of every 10 infants born in the United States. The preterm birth rate declined 1% in 2020. However, racial and ethnic differences in preterm birth rates remain. Black women in the U.S. are 50% more likely to have a premature baby than White women. Researchers have not fully explained the racial gap in premature births but racism-related stress may help explain why.

According to a study of a group of low-risk, pregnant Black women reported that preterm labor among Black women is due to the many physical, psychological, and social stressors they experience on a daily basis. From the lack of social support, to judgment by others, and unhealthy behaviors, such as poor nutrition and lack of physical activity, combined with near-constant racial discrimination, experts agree that chronically elevated stress hormones can lead to preterm birth.

Babies born prematurely may experience long-term intellectual and developmental disabilities. Preterm birth can also lead to infant mortality. Sadly, Black infants in the U.S. die at more than two times the rate of White babies. Whereas 4.8 White infants in 1,000 die before reaching 12 months old, 10.8 Black babies per 1,000 don’t make it to their first birthday. For the mothers of premature babies, life is more difficult. Premature babies are usually moved to the NICU shortly after birth and once they are strong enough, they will be able to go home and be with their families. However, preemie parenting experiences won’t be quite like that of parenting a full-term baby in many ways.


Premature infants commonly have episodes of apnea or pauses in breathing, that improve as they mature. Babies will not be discharged if the apnea causes a slow heart rate or a change in color. However, some nurseries send infants home on apnea monitors if the infants have mild apnea that does not cause a change in color or heart rate or require stimulation to make the baby breathe again. Doctors will decide if your baby needs a monitor; if so, anyone who will be alone with your infant at home will need to attend a training session on using the monitor and learn how to perform infant cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

Premature babies need to be fed more often because their tiny tummies can’t hold as much food, and as a result, they don’t sleep as deeply or for as long as full-term babies.  Some babies who were born very prematurely may have been sleeping on their fronts for medical reasons in hospital. But now they are at home, you should put them to sleep on their back. Babies may find it hard to get used to a new sleeping position at first but keep putting your baby onto their back.

You're concentrating on your baby now, but remember that you have needs, too. Taking good care of yourself will help you take the best care of your preemie. You're concentrating on your baby now, but remember that you have needs, too. Taking good care of yourself will help you take the best care of your preemie. You're concentrating on your baby now, but remember that you have needs, too. Taking good care of yourself will help you take the best care of your preemie. Support one another and allow your friends and family to support you as well.


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 Boitumelo Masihleho is a South African digital content creator. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Rhodes University in Journalism and Media Studies and Politics and International Studies. She's an experienced multimedia journalist who is committed to writing balanced, informative and interesting stories on a number of topics. Boitumelo has her own YouTube channel where she shares her love for affordable beauty and lifestyle content. 

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