Taking Your Preemie Home
Each hospital has slightly different criteria for discharging prematurely born babies. The infants themselves also vary in the time they require to mature. In general, babies must be able to do the following things before they go home:
- Maintain body temperature outside of the incubator. Until babies are about 1,700 grams in weight (three pounds, 12 ounces) they usually do not have sufficient body mass and subcutaneous fat to maintain their body temperatures.
- Breathe on their own. Prematurely born babies sometimes forget to breathe; this is called apnea. It is very common among premature babies and usually improves rapidly as the baby approaches 40 weeks of age (total gestational age plus weeks since birth). Even if apnea is still a problem when the baby is otherwise ready for discharge, he may still be sent home with an apnea monitor.
- Eat on their own. Prematurely born infants may not have coordinated suck and swallow reflexes at birth and for several weeks thereafter. They are frequently fed by tube in the hospital. Before discharge, almost all hospitals require that the infant be able to take all feedings either by breast or bottle.