The Answer to Your Preemie Questions: An Interview with Dr. Mandal

The Answer to Your Preemie Questions: An Interview with Dr. Mandal

There are so many challenges that can come with being a new parent and so many questions that come to mind as you start out on this process. However, for parents that have a premature baby, or a preemie, a whole new set of questions can arise. Since they are born early, preemies require a very specific type of care. This can be a heart-wrenching and difficult time for any parent, but the more information you have and the more answers you are able to collect, the better off you will be.

This is why we had our board-certified Pediatrician, Dr. Kathryn Mandal, sit down and answer some of these difficult questions that many parents have about premature babies.

At what gestation is a baby considered a preemie? 

In general, we could say that most babies born before 37 weeks are a preemie; however, it varies. Some babies are born at 36 weeks that do just fine and some babies that are born at 36 weeks are in the NICU for a very long time. It is not just about how premature the baby is born, but why the baby is born premature and issues may arise after birth

What are some common short-term concerns for preemie parents?

The most common short-term concern I see as a Pediatrician is feeding premature babies. Problems feeding may keep them in the hospital longer than usual or it can also become an ongoing issue that parents deal with at home during the first few weeks of life. Parents will need to adjust. Feeding may be very slow and take a lot of coaxing initially, or babies may need short but very frequent feeds that end up with parents never getting more than a 2-hour break to sleep at time. The mental and physical exhaustion for new parents is real!

What are some common Long-Term risk factors for premature babies?

The good news is because medical care has advanced so much the last couple of decades, more and more babies that are born pre-mature have fewer long-term side effects. It just depends on what happened to cause a premature delivery or what complications they have from being born prematurely.

So, it is difficult because most of the time it is a waiting game. Parents are always worried as soon as their baby is born pre-mature about what is going to happen long-term and that is an answer that unfortunately we can’t answer until the child is growing up and developing. There is also a wide range of variabilities regarding how long it can take for a preemie baby to ‘catch up’ to other children their age.

What are some things parents can do during a visit in the hospital in the NICU that will help them bond with their preemie?

Things like singing or talking to a baby are important. Having a child hear your voice or having a picture of you near the incubator can go a long way. We know that babies can imprint on their mom’s and dad’s faces early on. Sometimes, depending on the NICU and what the health issues of the baby are, the hospital may let you leave something like a blanket or a washcloth that smells like you. Almost every incubator in the NICU has a picture of parents, that helps the baby and the parents in the bonding process. It is just heart wrenching to leave your baby in the NICU, and something as simple as a photo can give the baby and the parents a little comfort till they can return.

As a parent of a preemie, what advice do you have for parents who are dealing with the rollercoaster of emotions of having a preemie?

I would say try to really lean on each other. You and your spouse or your partner may have times where you are both really worried, but you may express that stress differently, and that is OK. Lean on each other and try to have patience. You want your pre-mature baby to catch up and you do want to feel like you’re a normal family. 

Before you had your preemie, you had all of these expectations and an idea in your head of what it would be like to have a new baby home. When your baby is pre-mature that doesn’t really fit with the reality of what your expectations were and that can be difficult. Try to focus on being patient and so you can give your child as much normalcy as possible. 

What are some tips for parents of a preemie that you can give when they have an older sibling at home? What to do and what not to do?

Being home with school-aged children or their older siblings that might be bringing germs home is obviously very concerning for every preemie parent. But, the fact is, that is your family and being home with siblings can give that newborn love and affection is the most important thing in the world.

So, think about the normal things that you’d be doing anyway and keeping up those rules that you have, like washing your hands after the bathroom, washing your hands after mealtime, washing your hands after blowing your nose, washing your hands before you touch the baby.

If an older sibling seems to be coming down with a cold or is sick, then this is a great time to give affection in a different way, instead of kissing or hugging. This can be showing the baby a drawing or just touching the baby’s feet instead. This way, the older sibling doesn’t seem ostracized just because they have a cold, but also you don’t have to be scared of a possible illness in this delicate preemie that you just brought home.

Well that is all the questions that we have prepared, is there anything else you would like to cover for parents with preemie’s or that have a possibility of having a preemie in the near future?

Sometimes, with preemies, there are no answers to your questions, and there won’t be an answer for a long time. Chances are in the NICU, nobody will know when that baby is going to go home. Many families are in the NICU for days or weeks and even sometimes months and don’t have any answers. They are told to take things one day at a time.  

This uncertainty can happen in the NICU and it can happen when you’re pregnant. If you are pregnant and have complications, it can be really hard for your OBGYN to give you direct answers on what is really going on—often because they don’t know. However, babies surprise us all the time, they’re tough, they’re fighters.

Being a parent of a preemie baby can be overwhelming. However, with helpful tips from renowned Pediatricians like Dr. Mandal, you can start getting the answers you need to your most pressing questions.

Remember, if you ever have questions about your pregnancy, your preemie baby, or your children and their health, the experts at Continuum Pediatrics are always here to help. As a new parent, you want to do anything that you can in order to keep your baby as healthy as possible, and the team here at Continuum is here to help you along the way. Give us a call for your next appointment at 817-617-8600.