Preterm infant; Preemie; Premie
When premature labor develops and cannot be stopped, the health care team will prepare for a high-risk birth. The mother may be moved to a center that specifically cares for premature infants in, for example, a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
After birth, the baby is admitted to a high-risk nursery. The infant is placed under a warmer or in a clear, heated box called an incubator, which controls the air temperature. Monitoring machines track the baby's breathing, heart rate, and level of oxygen in the blood.
Infants are usually unable to coordinate sucking and swallowing before 34 weeks gestation. Therefore, the baby may have a small, soft feeding tube placed through the nose or mouth into the stomach. In very premature or sick infants, nutrition may be given through a vein until the baby is stable enough to receive all nutrition in the stomach. (See:
If the infant has breathing problems:
- A tube may be placed into the windpipe (trachea). A machine called a ventilator will help the baby breathe.
- Some babies whose breathing problems are less severe receive continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) with small tubes in the nose rather than the trachea. Or they may receive only extra oxygen.
- Oxygen may be given by ventilator, CPAP, nasal prongs, or an oxygen hood over the baby's head.
Nursery care is needed until the infant is able to breathe without extra support, feed by mouth, and maintain body temperature and a stable or increasing body weight. In very small infants, other problems may complicate treatment and a longer hospital stay may be needed.
There are multiple support groups for parents of premature babies. Ask the social worker in the neonatal intensive care unit.
Review Date: 01/08/2010
Reviewed By: Kimberly G. Lee, MD, MSC, IBCLC, Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Division of Neonatology, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC. Review Provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.