How are premature babies treated?

When it becomes evident that a mother will deliver prematurely, she often is treated with antibiotics to control infection and with the steroid betamethasone to help mature the baby’s lungs.

Following delivery, preterm babies are admitted to a neonatal intensive care ward, where they stay until near their original due date and they have reached some key developmental milestones, including being able to maintain their own body temperature and feed themselves.

Techniques to soothe the baby include music therapy and kangaroo care, in which parents hold the baby using skin-to-skin contact. Most premature babies use a ventilator for a short time before using other therapies to improve lung outcomes. Vapotherm keeps air spaces partially open to make it easier for the babies to breathe on their own. Surfactant replacement therapy makes the air spaces in the lungs easier to open so that mechanical ventilation can be achieved at lower pressures, which reduces trauma to premature lungs.

Inhaled nitric oxide, a very new therapy, is used selectively for the smallest babies. Nutrition -- critical to recovery -- begins with early total parenteral nutrition and tube feedings. Eventually, the babies receive mother’s milk with fortification and/or specialized formulas. Once babies can suck, swallow and breathe, they will be able to feed themselves -- usually the last developmental milestone that must be reached before the baby can leave the hospital. Despite the many benefits of these new technologies, the ultimate goal is to prevent prematurity altogether.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.