Treatments for Prematurity in Children

Intensive care

Premature babies usually need care in a special nursery called the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Children's NICU combines advanced technology and specially trained doctors and nurses to care for the tiniest patients. Our NICU team is led by a neonatologist, who is a pediatrician with additional training in the care of sick and premature babies.

Corticosteroid medication

One of the most important parts of care for premature babies is a medication called a corticosteroid. Research has found that giving the mother a steroid medication at least 48 hours prior to delivery greatly reduces the incidence and severity of respiratory disease in your baby.

Another major benefit of steroid treatment is lessening of intraventricular hemorrhage (bleeding in your baby's brain). Although studies are not clear, prenatal steroids may also help reduce the incidence of NEC and PDA. Mothers may be given steroids when preterm birth is likely between 24 and 34 weeks of pregnancy. Before that time, or after, the medication usually isn't effective.

Care of premature babies may also include:

  • temperature-controlled beds
  • monitoring of temperature, blood pressure, heart and breathing rates and oxygen levels
  • giving extra oxygen by a mask or with a breathing machine
  • mechanical ventilators (breathing machines) to do the work of breathing for your baby
  • intravenous (IV) fluids - when feedings cannot be given, or for medications
  • placement of catheters (small tube) into the umbilical cord to give fluids and medications and to draw blood
  • x-rays (for diagnosing problems and checking tube placement)
  • special feedings of breast milk or formula, sometimes with a tube into the stomach if a baby cannot suck
  • medications and other treatments for complications, such as antibiotics
  • kangaroo care - a method of caring for premature babies using skin-to-skin contact with the parent to provide contact and aid parent-infant attachment

When can a premature baby go home from the hospital?

Your baby will likely need time to "catch up" in her development and growth. In the hospital, this catch-up time may involve learning to eat and sleep, as well as steadily gaining weight. Depending on her condition, your baby may need to stay in the hospital until they she reaches the mother's due date.

General goals for discharge may include:

  • serious illnesses are resolved
  • stable temperature - able to stay warm in an open crib
  • taking all feedings by breast or bottle
  • no recent apnea or low heart rate
  • parents are able to provide care including medications and feedings

Before you leave the hospital, your baby will need an eye examination and hearing test to check for problems related to prematurity.

Even though they are otherwise ready for discharge, some babies continue to have special needs, such as extra oxygen or tube feedings. With instruction and the right equipment, these babies are often able to be cared for at home by parents. Our social workers can help coordinate discharge plans when special care is needed.

Ask your physician about a "trial run" overnight stay in a parenting room at the hospital before your baby is discharged. This can help you adjust to caring for your baby while doctors and nurses are nearby for help and reassurance. You may also feel more confident taking their baby home when they have been given instructions in infant CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) and infant safety.