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Preterm Baby


A preterm baby is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy. A preterm baby is also known as a preemie or premature baby. Premature babies are at risk for several health problems because they are not ready to leave the womb. These problems may be short-term or long-term.


Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) for any of the following:

  • Your baby stops breathing or you cannot feel his or her pulse.
  • Your baby cannot be woken.
  • Your baby's skin looks blue.

Call your baby's pediatrician if:

  • Your baby vomits more than 3 times in a day, or has trouble eating.
  • Your baby is wheezing, breathing faster than normal, or grunting during feeding.
  • Your baby's skin or eyes look yellow.
  • Your baby has less than 4 wet diapers per day, or his or her head looks sunken in.
  • Your baby's abdomen looks larger than usual and feels hard.
  • Your baby has a fever higher than 100.4°F (38°C).
  • Your baby cries more than usual or seems like he or she is in pain.
  • Your baby has a rash.
  • Your baby has white patches on his or her tongue or gums.
  • You see a bulge or swelling around your baby's belly button or any part of his or her abdomen.
  • Your baby's skin around his or her feeding tube or oxygen becomes red, swollen, or drains pus.
  • You have questions or concerns about your baby's condition or care.


may be given to treat problems that your baby continues to have after he or she leaves the hospital. Your baby may need medicine to treat breathing or heart problems. He or she may also need vitamins or iron to keep him or her healthy.

Care for your baby at home:

Your baby may leave the hospital when he or she can breathe on his or her own, stay warm without extra heat, and is gaining weight steadily. Spend time with your baby in the hospital as much as possible before he or she goes home. Learn about equipment, medicines, and how to feed your baby. Healthcare providers will teach you how to care for your baby before you take him or her home. Do the following to keep your baby safe and healthy at home:

  • Prevent infection by keeping your home clean. Your baby will need several immunizations to decrease his or her risk for infections and diseases. Ask your healthcare provider how often your baby needs immunizations. Wash your hands before you touch your baby or anything your baby comes in contact with. Ask anyone who visits your baby to wash their hands. Do not take your baby to crowded places and keep him or her away from people who are sick. Do not let anyone smoke near your baby. Breastfeed or give your baby your milk in a bottle as much as possible. Your milk will help protect your baby from infections and other illnesses.
  • Feed your baby as directed. Only give your baby breast milk or formula with iron for the first 6 months of his or her life.
    • You may need to feed your baby through his or her feeding tube. Ask your healthcare provider how often to feed your baby through his or her tube. You may be able to pump your milk and give it to your baby through his or her feeding tube.
    • Hold your baby upright to feed him or her. Be sure your baby's upper body is higher than his or her lower body. Do not prop your baby's bottle.
    • Feed your baby at least every 3 hours throughout the day and night. Instead you may need to give your baby formula. Ask your healthcare provider how to prepare your baby's formula. Wash all bottles and nipples with hot water and soap. Let them air dry.
    • Your baby may spit up after he or she eats. This is normal. Tell your healthcare provider if your baby spits up large amounts or continues to spit up throughout the day.
    • Your baby should have 6 to 8 wet diapers per day. This means that he or she is getting enough liquids.
  • Give your baby medicine as directed. You should know when to give your baby medicine, how to give it, and what the dose is. You should also understand what the medicine is for, and what side effects to look for. Ask your healthcare provider how to give your baby medicine if he or she has a feeding tube. Your baby may need vitamins, iron, or other medicines to help him or her grow and stay healthy.
  • Always place your baby to sleep on his or her back to prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Clear your baby's crib of toys and loose bedding. Put your baby to sleep on a hard or firm surface. Allow your baby tummy-time as directed. Watch your baby at all times when he or she is on his or her tummy.
    Back to Sleep
  • Use medical equipment as directed. Most babies do not need medical equipment at home. Your baby may need any of the following:
    • Oxygen increases your baby's oxygen levels. Care for your baby's skin around the oxygen tubing as directed. Make sure the oxygen tank is full. Keep the oxygen tank away from open flames. Do not let anyone smoke near your baby.
    • An apnea monitor monitors your baby's heart rate and breathing. Your healthcare provider will show you what to do if the monitor alarms. You may need to gently tap your baby if he or she stops breathing. This will make him or her breathe and increase his or her heart rate. You should learn infant CPR before your baby leaves the hospital.
    • A feeding tube and a syringe may be needed to feed your baby. A feeding tube may be needed if your baby cannot get enough food by bottle or breast feeding. Care for the feeding tube as directed. Use a syringe to give him or her breast milk or formula through his or her feeding tube. Clean your baby's skin around his or her feeding tube as directed. Wash all feeding supplies with hot water and soap. Let them air dry.
  • Watch for your baby's progress so that you know that your baby is growing and developing as he or she should. Your baby will reach certain milestones such as crawling, smiling, holding up his or her head, and speaking, at different ages. Preemie babies may take longer to reach milestones than babies born on time. Ask your healthcare provider when your baby should reach certain milestones.

Get support:

Caring for your preemie baby may be difficult. You may need help caring for your baby at home. Ask your healthcare provider about home health aides or nurses that can help you learn to care for your baby at home. Join a support group or talk with others who have delivered a preemie.

Follow up with your baby's healthcare provider as directed:

Keep all appointments for your baby. Healthcare providers need to weigh your baby and make sure he or she is gaining enough weight. He or she may need blood tests to get information about his or her overall health. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Learn more about Preterm Baby (Discharge Care)

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.