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Meeting the Needs of Pre-term Babies


mother and father holding newborn baby


If you go into labour before the 37th week of your pregnancy, your baby will be "preterm" and may need special care. Giving birth prematurely can be stressful and unexpected. Seek support from your partner, family, healthcare provider or spiritual advisor to help you adjust. 

Babies who are pre-term have different issues, depending on their age at birth:

  • Babies who are born closer to 32 weeks (just over 7 months) may have challenges with eating, breathing, or staying warm on their own. In most cases, when these babies have had time to grow, these issues will resolve and they will not have long-term problems.
  • Babies born earlier than 26 weeks (just under 6 months) are more likely to have serious problems. If your baby was born very small or with health issues, you may face hard decisions about care and treatment.

To reduce your risk of pre-term labour be sure to visit your doctor or midwife regularly, eat well by following Canada’s Food Guide, and don’t smoke, drink or use drugs. It's also helpful to:

  • avoid strenuous work 
  • avoid working for more than eight hours a day
  • talk with your healthcare provider about any extra stress in your life
  • seek help if you are abused
  • make time to rest each day
  • wear your seat belt low and over the pelvic bones, with the shoulder belt worn tightly against your chest.
  • listen to your body and talk with your healthcare provider if you feel that something is different

Caring for Your Pre-term Baby

Your pre-term baby may need to be separated from you at birth if special care is required. Have your partner or birth support accompany the baby to the nursery if possible. You should be able to visit your baby soon after the birth.

Pre-term babies, like all babies, need to be touched, stroked, and talked to, even while inside an incubator. When your baby is well enough, you may be encouraged to have skin to skin contact. This is called Kangaroo Care. Your baby is unwrapped and placed on your chest where he or she can hear your heart beat, feel you breathing and breastfeed. You may need extra support with breastfeeding your pre-term baby. Ask your health care provider for additional information on Kangaroo Care as well as breastfeeding support. 

Did you know?

Pre-term babies may have problems breathing in an infant car seat. They need to be checked in their car seat before leaving the hospital. At home, it's important that for pre-term babies to be placed on their backs for sleeping.

Individual, family, and small group counselling is available to people of all ages who are directly or indirectly affected by alcohol and other drug use. You can call the 24-hour BC Alcohol and Drug Information and Referral Service at 604-660-9382 or toll-free at 1-800-663-1441. For information about mental health and substance use, visit:  HeretoHelp

If You Think You’re in Pre-term Labour: Contact your healthcare provider and go to the hospital right away.

Reference: HealthWise

Resources & Links:
HealthLink BC: Preterm Labour
HealthLink BC: Premature Infant
HealthLink BC: Feeding Your Premature Infant
HealthLink BC: Substance Use During Pregnancy  

Last Updated: November 13, 2019