We’ve all seen shows such as One Born Every Minute and premature babies are almost always naked except for their nappy, so you could be forgiven for thinking clothing isn’t important but it has a vital role to play.
Whilst being cared for in Neonatal Intensive Care, babies often only wear a nappy; this is because they are inside a thermostatically controlled incubator which is also humidified to help keep skin moist. Medical staff need to be able to see the baby’s skin colour at a glance; it’s also important for them to see the chest rise and fall as they breathe.
As soon as the humidifier is no longer required and a baby has shown signs of improvement, if at all possible clothes are introduced. Initially something simple, offering ease of access, like a neonatal vest and hat because the baby has lots of wiring which needs to be accommodated. Quite often at this stage this is for the benefit of parents, who can feel overwhelmed by the sea of wires attached to their tiny baby.
Wearing a neonatal vest adds a bit of normality to an otherwise far from normal situation and if the vest is something Mum and Dad have brought, it may be the first thing they have been able to do for their baby and marks an enormous turning point in their babies well being.
Clothing becomes important when babies are transferred from an enclosed incubator to an open cot; usually this occurs in the High Dependency Unit as part of their transitional care. Because premature babies are unable to regulate their body temperature, they need clothes to keep warm. With little in the way of body fat, premature babies would otherwise waste calories trying to do this.
It’s not necessarily the case that an early baby requires intensive care, the needs of premature babies vary greatly. Multiple babies (twins and triplets) are often delivered early and will require no more than a short stay in a Special Care Baby Unit or Nursery where they will be monitored until they gain weight. These babies require less medical intervention and can wear ‘normal’ baby clothes in a tiny size.
Buying clothes for premature babies is a very positive thing to do and even if they aren’t worn, parents will often keep a garment as a reminder of how tiny their baby was. If you are in doubt as to which department a baby is being cared for in, a hat or blanket is always a good idea.