With about 1 in 10 babies being born premature (before the 37th week of pregnancy) in the US each year, many women share the experience of being mamas to preemie babies. But if your baby is born at 25 weeks premature or less, your teeny-tiny peanut becomes known as a micro preemie.
Because they’ve made such an early entrance into the world, your micro preemie baby will need extra care in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), until their little body is ready to go it alone.
As the new mama of a micro preemie baby, we know this is an anxious time for you as you watch and wait. So let’s talk about these very special babies and what you can expect during their first few months.
Table of Contents 📝
- What is a micro preemie baby?
- What treatment does a micro preemie need?
- Micro preemies survival rates
- Being there for your micro preemie in the NICU
- Taking your micro preemie home
What is a micro preemie baby?
What is the difference between a preemie and a micro preemie? Both “preemie” and “micro preemie” are names used for premature babies – that is, babies born before a pregnancy reaches 37 weeks.
But a micro preemie is a premature baby who:
- Is born before 26 weeks, and/or
- Weighs less than 28oz (1lb 12 oz) at birth.
Good things really do come in small packages…
As well as being tiny when they’re born, micro preemie babies look very delicate, and their skin is so thin that you can see all their veins underneath.
Unfortunately, because micro preemies are born earlier, meaning they had less time to develop in the uterus than other preemies, they have a higher risk of health complications. That means that once you’ve given birth, your baby will need to be cared for in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), probably for a few months.
What treatment does a micro preemie need?
In the NICU, your micro preemie baby will be placed in an incubator (a bed made of clear plastic) to keep them warm, as they’re not able to regulate their own body temperature straight away.
They will also be:
- Given help to breathe through a ventilator, as their lungs aren’t fully developed yet.
- Fed through an intravenous line (IV) if their digestive system isn’t ready to absorb nutrients. (Once it is ready, they’ll be given milk through a feeding tube.)
- Monitored to check their breathing rate, oxygen levels, and blood pressure.
They might also need extra medical treatment for any other health issues that arise. For example, micro preemies are at higher risk of infections, such as sepsis, which are treated using antibiotics.
The NICU team will also be on the lookout for problems in your baby’s organs, which may need medication or surgery to treat.
Micro preemies survival rates
Thanks to the amazing medical care in NICUs, micro preemie survival rates are better than they have ever been.
Sadly, a micro preemie born at 21 weeks is unlikely to survive, but the prospects for a baby born at 22 weeks are a little better, with a 10% survival rate.
At 24 weeks, though, we see a huge improvement, with a survival rate of around 60%. And at 27 weeks it’s up to 89%.
Being there for your micro preemie in the NICU
When your micro preemie baby is in the NICU, you might not be able to touch them at first, if their skin is too delicate – but you can speak or sing to them. Just hearing your voice will reassure and comfort them.
In time, you’ll be able to place your hands into the incubator and gently touch them. And, once your doctor is confident they are strong enough, you’ll have the joy of that very first cuddle! Kangaroo care (where you and your baby have skin-to-skin contact) is also a beautiful way to spend time with your preemie when they’re ready for it.
Of course, you can also bring in little outfits for them (special micro preemie clothes are available, and are designed to be easy-opening for medical care). And, eventually, you’ll be able to practice changing those tiny micro preemie diapers.
Just because your baby is in hospital, this doesn’t stop you from showering them in mama-love.
Taking your micro preemie home
It’s a joyful day when you finally get to take your micro preemie baby home with you. They’re usually ready for this once they’ve hit an enormous 4lb in weight, they can stay warm and breathe on their own, and they are breast or bottle-feeding.
Heading home is an amazing moment, but you might still be wondering what’s next for your baby: Do micro preemies catch up with other babies in terms of development?
And the good news is: Yes! Most preemies and micro preemies go on to hit those classic baby milestones (walking, talking, etc.) – they just need a little extra time to get there.
In the meantime, look after yourself too. All those months at the NICU aren’t easy. If you need support, you can always reach out to the micro preemie mamas on Peanut. Whatever helps, mama.