There are common questions that we can answer about all health topics, such as "What is it?" and "How many people are affected." Answers to these questions are found under Condition Information. Each health topic frequently has specific questions that pertain only to that topic. We have answered those in this section.
What kinds of special care are common for preterm infants?
Infants born before 37 weeks of development in the uterus are considered preterm (pronounced PREE-term) births. The term of a normal human pregnancy is about 40 weeks. Many organs, including the brain, lungs, and liver, need the final weeks of pregnancy to fully develop. Even infants born slightly preterm are at greater risk for certain health problems than are full-term infants. The earlier the delivery, the higher the risk of complications, serious disability, or death.
The health challenges faced by preterm infants include (but are not limited to):
- Breathing problems because of underdeveloped lungs
- Greater risk for a serious lung condition known as respiratory distress syndrome
- Greater risk for cerebral palsy
- Greater risk for learning and intellectual or developmental disabilities
- Greater risk for life-threatening infections
- Low birth weight
- Greater risk of experiencing poor feeding responses
- Underdeveloped organs or organ systems
Most preterm infants stay in the hospital for several weeks or more, often in a neonatal (pronounced nee-oh-NATE-ahl) intensive care unit (NICU). Preterm infants who are delivered at hospitals with high-level NICUs, which provide specialized care for infants with serious health problems, have a better chance of survival. These units are well equipped and have doctors and nurses with advanced training and experience in caring for preterm infants. The team caring for the infant may include a neonatologist (pronounced nee-oh-nate-AHL-oh-jist), a health care provider who specializes in treating problems in newborns.1
How can I help keep my child's teeth healthy?
Children need strong, healthy teeth to chew their food, speak, and have a healthy-looking smile. Their first teeth (sometimes called baby teeth) help make sure their adult teeth come in correctly.
Your child's baby teeth are at risk for decay as soon as they break through the gums, usually around the age of 6 months. Tooth decay in infants and toddlers is often referred to as baby-bottle tooth decay. It most often occurs in the upper front teeth, but other teeth may be affected.
Parents can follow these steps as outlined by the American Dental Association to help prevent tooth decay in their infant2:
- Begin cleaning your infant's mouth during the first few days after birth by wiping the gums with a clean, moist gauze pad or washcloth.
- When your child's teeth begin to come in, brush them gently with a child-size toothbrush and water.
- For children older than 2 years, brush their teeth with a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. Be sure they spit out the toothpaste. Ask your child's dentist or physician if you are considering using fluoride toothpaste before age 2.
- Until you're comfortable that your child can brush on his or her own, continue to brush your child's teeth twice a day with a child-size toothbrush and a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste.
- When your child has two teeth that touch, you should begin flossing their teeth daily.
For more information, visit the American Academy of Pediatrics' Baby Tooth Care page.
How can I help my child with sleeping?
Helping a child learn to fall asleep and stay asleep is one of the more challenging parts of infant care. Newborns tend to sleep or drowse for 16 to 20 hours a day. Because their internal clocks are not yet set, they sleep a lot both during the day and at night. Newborns also have small stomachs, and so they need to be awake for regular feedings.
After a few months, infants usually begin to sleep in longer stretches at night and are awake for longer periods during the day. Practicing bedtime routines and putting your baby into the crib before the child falls asleep can help build better sleep patterns.
The American Academy of Pediatrics advises against co-sleeping, the practice of infants and parents sleeping together (sometimes called bed sharing). Co-sleeping increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and other sleep-related causes of infant death, such as suffocation. The recommended alternative is room sharing, keeping the baby's sleep area in the same room where you sleep.
If you bring your infant into bed with you to breastfeed, make sure to put him or her back into the child's own sleep area in your room, such as a safety-approved crib or bassinet, when you are finished.
For more information on sleep, see All About Sleep, published by the American Academy of Family Physicians. Also, the March of Dimes suggests some ideas for bedtime routines to start when your infant is 4 to 6 months old.
- American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2011). Early preterm birth FAQ. Retrieved April 23, 2012, from http://www.acog.org/~/media/For%20Patients/faq173.pdf?dmc=1&ts=20120323T1605318647 (PDF - KB) [top]
- American Dental Association. (2012). Healthy habits. Retrieved August 6, 2012, from http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/babies-and-kids/healthy-habits.aspx [top]
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