Your Premature Baby at Home: Care Instructions

Your Care Instructions

Your baby is small, but his or her basic needs are the same as those of any newborn baby. You will spend most of your time feeding, diapering, and comforting your baby. You may feel overwhelmed at times. Remember that it is normal to be concerned about your premature baby's health. But good nutrition, home care, and lots of love will help your baby grow.

You can expect your baby to be smaller than average for up to 2 years or more. In time, most premature babies will have caught up to full-term babies.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

General health

  • If your doctor prescribed medicines for your baby, give them as directed. Call your doctor if you think your child is having a problem with his or her medicine.
  • Give iron, vitamins, and other supplements your doctor recommends.
  • If your baby gets home oxygen, follow instructions for its use.
  • Never give your baby honey in the first year of life. Honey can make your baby sick.
  • Wash your hands often and always before holding your baby. Keep your baby away from crowds and sick people. Be sure all visitors are up to date with their vaccinations.
  • Keep babies younger than 6 months out of the sun. If you cannot avoid the sun, use hats and clothing to protect your child's skin.
  • Do not smoke or expose your baby to smoke. Smoking increases the chance of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), ear infections, asthma, colds, and pneumonia. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
  • Immunize your baby against childhood diseases. Premature babies should get these shots on the same schedule as full-term babies.


  • Your baby may come home with a feeding schedule. This will tell you how often to nurse or bottle-feed. Do not go longer than 4 hours between feedings.
  • Small feedings may help reduce spitting up. Talk to your doctor if your baby spits up a lot during or after feedings.
  • If your baby has a feeding tube, follow instructions for its use.


  • Put your baby to sleep on his or her back, not on the side or tummy. This reduces the risk of SIDS. Use a firm, flat mattress. Do not put pillows in the crib. Do not use sleep positioners or crib bumpers.
  • Most premature babies sleep more than full-term infants. But they don't sleep for very long each time. You may wake up with your baby a lot until 6 months after your due date. And premature babies do not stay awake very long until about 2 months after your due date. It may seem like a long time before your baby responds to you the way you might expect.
  • Too much light, touch, sound, or movement may upset your baby. Make the baby's room calm and restful.
  • Ask your doctor if it is okay to swaddle your baby in a blanket. If you swaddle your baby, keep the blanket loose around the hips and legs. If the legs are wrapped tightly or straight, hip problems may develop. Hold him or her as much as possible.

Diaper changing and bowel habits

  • You can tell if your newborn gets enough breast milk or formula by the number of wet and soiled diapers in a day.
  • For the first few days, your baby may have about 3 wet diapers a day. After that, expect 6 or more wet diapers a day throughout the first month of life. If you use disposable diapers, it can be hard to tell if a diaper is wet. If you cannot tell, put a piece of tissue in a diaper. It will be wet when your baby urinates.
  • Many newborns have at least 1 or 2 bowel movements a day. By the end of the first week, your baby may have as many as 5 to 10 a day. But as your baby eats more and matures during his or her first month, the number of bowel movements may decrease. By 6 weeks of age, your baby may not have a bowel movement every day. This usually is not a problem, as long as your baby seems comfortable and is growing as expected, and as long as the stools aren't hard.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your child stops breathing, turns blue, or becomes unconscious. Start rescue breathing and follow instructions given by emergency services while you wait for help.
  • Your child has severe trouble breathing. Signs may include the chest sinking in, using belly muscles to breathe, or nostrils flaring while your child is struggling to breathe.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your baby has a rectal temperature of less than 97.5°F (36.4°C) or more than 100.4°F (38°C). Call if you cannot take your baby's temperature, but he or she seems hot.
  • Your baby has no wet diapers for 6 hours.
  • Your baby is rarely awake and does not wake up for feedings, is very fussy, or seems too tired or uninterested to eat.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your baby is having hard bowel movements and has many days between bowel movements.
  • Your baby cries in an unusual way or for an unusual length of time.

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