Born too early

If everything goes well, a pregnancy lasts on average about nine months, during which time “the new life” inside you has the chance to grow. In recent years, however, it has often happened that due to circumstances the delivery starts much earlier and your son or daughter sees the light of day after, for example, six months. For many new parents, this means a long emotional hospital period before they can take their newborn treasure home and enjoy life together.

Premature birth

Nowadays, about 7 to 8% of children are born prematurely. A child born between the 23rd and 37th week of pregnancy is generally called a “premature”. This comes from the English “premature” which means “premature” or “too early”. Because these children have not gone through the full growth process, they will have to spend the first time in an incubator. This is for their own protection and necessary to be able to survive the missed growth time. After all, they cannot yet protect themselves, but with the right medical help, not to mention the love and support of their parents, they can go very far.


Size and length

The first thing you notice when your baby is born prematurely is how small and fragile he or she looks. Logically, because the size and length of the baby is partly determined by the duration of the pregnancy, it is even normal for your little one to lose some weight in the first few days after delivery. This may be a maximum of about ten percent of the weight at birth, most of these little ones are weighed every day and monitored closely.

The skin

The skin is especially transparent at the beginning, the color of the skin at that moment gives a clear picture of the little one’s condition. The blood vessels, muscles and ribs are clearly visible through the skin. The color of the skin can alternate from red and yellow to gray and blue depending on the little one’s medical condition.

Downy hair

There is a layer of soft down hair (lanugo) over the entire body, but mainly on the back, shoulders and arms. This will disappear automatically after a few weeks.

The head

Compared to the rest of the body, the head looks very large at first. After a while, when the baby has had enough nutrients and vitamins, this will improve automatically. The rest of the body still has to grow, to make up for the lost time, so to speak.


In general, premature babies look very fragile, this is because the muscles and nerves are not yet fully developed. Because these bodily functions are still developing, you often notice small jerks in your little one.

Nose and chin

Many premature babies have white specks on the nose and chin, this is called milia and is actually nothing more than sweat glands that are not yet fully grown. Nothing to worry about, they will go away on their own within a few weeks.

Ears and auditory canal

Especially in the first few weeks, the ears and ear canal of a premature baby are still soft and pliable, but also very sensitive. They can already hear, but they can show strong startle reactions to loud noises or busy situations. It is recommended to use mainly soft sounds and speak in a soft voice during the first few months.

Sucking reflex

Even though it is not yet fully grown, a premature baby already has a sucking reflex. They can only fully use them to drink independently from 32 weeks of pregnancy, until then pacifiers specially developed for premature babies are used to teach the sucking reflex and to comfort the little ones.

A mini miracle

No matter how small these mini miracles are at birth, they are already a well-formed baby with all the trimmings. Fingers complete with incredibly soft nails, it’s all there. Due to the shortened duration of pregnancy, the body functions themselves will mainly have to be medically supported until they are strong enough to take over.


If a child is born prematurely, it will remain in an incubator for the first time until it is strong enough to maintain its own bodily functions. An incubator is a covered, lockable yet transparent baby bed. It has various functions (depending on the type) that ensure that the baby is as protected as possible. There are lockable doors on the side so that you as a parent can help care for the little wonder.

  • A premature baby has no or too little body fat to keep itself warm. The temperature of the incubator is initially set in such a way that the body temperature remains normal. The older he becomes, the more of these functions the body will take over.
  • Because the incubators are kept spotlessly clean, the risk of infection is small, as a premature baby has no or not fully developed immune system and cannot yet protect itself against infections. In the event of an infection, antibiotics are usually started immediately to combat the infection.
  • The humidity and air speed inside the incubator can be controlled depending on the baby’s needs. Maintaining the correct humidity and speed is important, among other things, to limit moisture loss.
  • Each incubator has various alarms that monitor the functions of the device, for example if it is too hot in the incubator or if the water for humidity has run out.

In addition, there are various devices that can monitor the health and bodily functions of the little one. Depending on the gestational age and the health of the premature baby, these devices will be used to support certain body functions, at least for the first time. Each incubator comes with a personal control monitor to which the devices are connected. This monitor emits alarms when something changes in the measurements of body functions (or when a cable is loose). The medical staff and, eventually, the parents can use the measurements on the screen to see whether everything is medically in order and intervene if necessary.

  • The baby is given three stickers on the chest and abdomen to measure heart rate and breathing.
  • There is often a red light around the big toe, which measures the oxygen level in the blood (saturation).
  • There are special mini blood pressure monitors for premature babies that can easily measure blood pressure. It is a small tire into which air is pumped and then slowly deflated.
  • Because the lungs and airways are not always fully mature, oxygen may have to be used until the body is strong enough to handle it itself. There are various medical devices for this, such as an oxygen cannula or CPap (a nasal tube with oxygen).

The standard for the measurements is set in advance, depending on the gestational age of the premature baby. If the measurements deviate from the values entered, an alarm will sound on the control monitor so that medical staff can intervene if necessary.


Because a premature baby does not yet have or does not have a fully developed immune system, any bacteria can be a danger to their health. The simplest infection can make the newborn baby seriously ill, which is why close attention is paid to these hospital wards. The incubators are changed once a week (more if necessary) and cleaned thoroughly, the bedding and cloths in the incubator are usually changed daily. Before you, as a parent or grandparents, can use the incubator, you must first thoroughly wash your hands and forearms with warm water and special anti-bacterial soap to kill any bacteria. Jewelry must be taken off and in many hospitals special aprons must be worn to prevent bacteria from getting onto your clothes.


Prematurely born children are very receptive to stimuli, especially in the first few months. Everything that is new or different will be experienced as a new stimulus. The cause could be anything:

  • loud or sudden noises, especially at the beginning, try to remain as calm as possible and not make too loud noises.
  • Rubbing or stroking can be experienced as an unpleasant stimulus, so it is better to gently place a finger or hand on your little one’s so that he or she feels that you are there.
  • Bright light can still be very painful for the eyes, which is why the light is usually dimmed in the department.
  • A positive incentive can be that he or she knows that his mom or dad is there, talk to the little one or quietly tell a short story. It helps you see beyond the incubator and the time in the hospital when you see that over time the little one responds to your voice because he or she recognizes it. Because apart from all the medical conditions, you have just become parents and especially if you have to stay in the hospital for a long time, those small normal things you can do are so important to keep it going.
  • Kangarooing is a very nice way to spend time with your child, the little one is placed on the chest of the father or mother and you are covered so that the baby does not get cold. This way you can cuddle for half an hour and that gives off positive stimuli.


Association of parents of incubator children

As a parent it’s not always easy to sit on that pregnancy pink cloud in the hospital, for most parents of premature babies the first few months are filled with fear for the baby’s health, worry and fatigue from the constant back and forth travel between home and the hospital. At Care4Neo you will find more parents of incubator children to talk to, but also things like special pacifiers for premature babies or books with more information. But in addition, at the Association of Parents of Incubator Children you will also find fellow sufferers, people who can tell you what their experiences are and have any tips for dealing with the situation.


Normal baby clothes and pampers are much too big in the first few months, which is why there are several companies that sell these items especially for premature babies. Normal children’s sizes start at size 50, clothing for premature babies usually starts at size 38 depending on the gestational age of the baby.

  • Size 38 is approximately for a 24 week baby.
  • Size 40 is approximately for a 28 week baby.
  • Size 42 is approximately for a baby up to 32 weeks.
  • Size 44 is approximately for a baby up to 36 weeks.
  • Size 46 is approximately for a baby of about 40-46 cm.
  • Size 47 is for all babies who are just too small for the standard size for a newborn baby.
  • Size 50 is the standard size for a newborn baby.



Buy a notebook and start by writing a piece in it yourself and ask the nurse to write in it too. You can leave this in the incubator and write down something new every now and then, once you have left the hospital and your son or daughter goes home healthy, these will be the most beautiful memories for later. In addition, it is also very nice to read what others experience with your little one while you are not there, sometimes the staff even pastes Polaroids.

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