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Caring for a Premature Baby

min read | 10 October 2021

In the episode of Pure Parenthood, Premie Babies, we’re joined by Kylie Pussell who is CEO & Co Founder of Miracle Babies Foundation.

Listen to Season 3, Episode 2 above or on Apple Podcasts or Spotify​.

Every year in Australia, more than 48,000 newborn babies require specialised medical care in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) or Special Care Nursery (SCN). 27,000 of these babies are born premature, and heartbreakingly up to 1000 babies will lose their fight for life.

Prematurity is the term used to describe when a baby is born early. For most women, pregnancy lasts around 40 weeks. Babies that are born between 37 and 42 weeks are considered full-term and babies born before 37 weeks are considered premature.

In Australia overall, 8.6% (1 in 10) of all babies are born prematurely and approximately 15% of all babies need admittance into a Newborn Intensive Care Unit or Special Care Nursery.

Premature Newborn Care

As parents, you eagerly look forward to welcoming your baby into the world and bringing your new family member home. Understandably, it can be overwhelming if your baby requires extra care.

If you give birth to a premature baby or sick newborn, they may need to be admitted into a specialised area of the hospital that is equipped to care for them. This specialised medical unit may be called:
  • Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU)

  • Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)

  • Intensive Care Nursery (ICN)

  • Special Care Nursery (SCN)

  • Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU)

These specialised medical units can be very foreign and highly technical environments. At first, parents may find this overwhelming and a little frightening, but understanding the unit and what goes on within it can help reduce your fears and help your baby.

A NICU combines advanced, life-supporting equipment with trained health care professionals. It is an intensive care unit designed to meet the unique needs of premature and sick newborns. Some of the babies are critically ill, while others may need specialised care and observation as they grow.

In Australia, just about all hospitals with maternity services (both public and private) have some type of nursery for the close observation of babies.

Babies are often admitted within the first 24 hours of their birth and may require specialised care if:
  • They are born prematurely (before 37 weeks gestation).

  • They have a low birth weight (less than 2,500 grams).

  • Difficulties occur during their delivery.

  • They are full-term, but have a complication such as difficulties with breathing, infections, surgical needs or birth defects.

  • They are one of a set of twins, triplets or other multiples. These babies are often admitted to a NICU as they tend to be born earlier and smaller than single birth babies.

Corrected & Chronological Age

When a baby is born before their due date, they will have two ages: their corrected age and their chronological age. Your baby also had a gestational age, which was the age of your baby from conception to birth, calculated in weeks.

When following your baby’s growth and development, it can be helpful to know the difference between the ages.

  • Corrected age:

    The age your baby would be if they had been born on their due date. For example, a baby who was born three months early (who now has a chronological age of seven months) has a corrected age of four months. Corrected age is useful while following your baby’s growth and development.

  • Chronological age:

    The age of your baby since birth. Your child's birthdays are celebrations of his or her chronological age.

How to calculate your baby’s corrected age?

To calculate your baby’s corrected age, start with your baby’s age in weeks (the number of weeks since birth) and subtract the number of weeks your baby was premature. For example, Eli was born at 25 weeks gestation (15 weeks early) and 27 weeks have passed since his birth. His corrected age is 27 weeks - 15 weeks = 12 weeks or three months corrected.

For most preterm babies, you will only need to correct their age until they are two or three years, as by this time most children have caught up developmentally to their peers.

Going Home

One of the biggest hurdles that parents face is being able to transition from being in a situation with 24-hour hospital care to providing the 24-hour care needed at home. You may be nervous leaving the care and guidance of the doctors and nurses who cared for your baby, and at times it can be a little overwhelming taking on full responsibility for all of your baby’s needs.

The NICU journey is extremely demanding and it is common for parents to feel emotionally and physically depleted. When your baby is discharged from the hospital, the constant demands of caring for your newborn and lack of sleep can be exacerbated, but it is important to look after yourself.

Remember that it is okay for you to ask for help from your family, friends or health care providers if you feel like you are overwhelmed or struggling to cope. Health professionals such as your paediatrician, GP or family health nurse will be willing to give any help or support you need and of course feel free to ring our parent support line any time should you need help on 1300 MBABIES (24 hours a day).

Premature babies can go home with low immunity, and this can isolate parents even more. Some babies are discharged on oxygen or feeding tubes, so getting out of the house can be sometimes hard. Families need to stay connected, reduce the isolation and loneliness and increase their parental confidence.

After discharge, Miracle Babies Foundation NurtureGroup is a great place for this to help families. Parents and carers can exchange ideas on parenting, tackle medical issues, share stories, build support networks, form friendships and ease the isolation that can often be felt by families of premature and sick newborns.

"The Miracle Babies Foundation NurtureGroup is a great place to meet other families who really understand the emotional roller coaster we went through and issues that still affect us today. The support we receive from other families is so uplifting and to watch the children together is very special" - Kelly Docherty, mum to twin girls Kiana and Maddison, born at 31 weeks.

Don’t go through this alone. If you have a premature baby, please reach out and you can speak with other parents who have been through a similar journey.

Download the episode transcript here.

This article was written in collaboration by Kylie Pussell and Purebaby, in conjunction with Season three, episode 2 of Purebaby’s podcast, Pure Parenthood.

In 2005, Founder Melinda Cruz and other parents came together to form a support network for families with a premature or sick baby. I was part of this and became Co Founder of Miracle Babies Foundation as a result of my own personal experiences.

I have 3 surviving children. I have had a 10 week miscarriage, loss of twins at 16 weeks, a 6 week miscarriage, and my son Marcus lost his fight for life at 2 days of age, being born at 25 weeks gestation.

I have spent many months in the NICU, with my daughter, Madeline born at 30 weeks. She spent 6 weeks in hospital. I also had twins at 25 weeks gestation, both were resuscitated at birth, Marcus weighed 785 grams and Scarlet weighed 645 grams. At day 2, heartbreakingly Marcus passed away due to his extreme prematurity. Scarlet spent 4 months in hospital. And my son Liam was born at 38 weeks.

For more information, visit the Miracle babies website here:

And learn more about NurtureLine here:

For 24-hour family support helpline call: 1300 622 243.

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