There are a lot of old wives tales when it comes to the miracle that is bringing another human into this world, and preemies are definitely not excluded from this. With so many myths about preemies, Romper asked experts about the most common misconceptions they've heard about from their patients, what they've seen in the media, and what they've heard from family and friends. Not only have they heard some pretty outlandish myths in their careers, they were able to provide the real facts. Knowledge is super important when dealing with the stress of having a preemie.
It's nerve-wracking enough when your baby is born early. The last thing you need is a bunch of false information making it even harder to handle. So take a deep breath and read on, and definitely stop Googling medical issues until you make yourself sick with worry. Let the experts help you separate fact from fiction, hopefully giving you a little peace of mind. When you tell people you have a preemie, they'll no doubt be more than willing to share all sorts of well-meaning advice, but that doesn't mean it's accurate. Be armed with the truth about premature infants and what they need to thrive, and you can shut down those myth-spreaders in no time.
1. The Baby Has To Be A Certain Weight To Be Discharged
Dr. Lyndsey Garbi, a NICU physician on the Verywell medical review board, says this is not true.
"Babies do not have to reach a specific weight to be discharged from the NICU and go home. They need to reach important milestones, such as eating well on their own, breathing well with no significant change in their vital signs, maintain their temperature in an open crib, and the medical team has no major concerns."
2. Preemies Are Too Weak To Breastfeed
Dr. Jamil Abdur-Rahman, OB-GYN and one-half of the Twin Doctors for TwinDoctorsTV, tells Romper that some folks believe breastfeeding requires babies to work harder to feed and premature babies are frequently too weak to expend the energy. "This is not true," he says. "A study done a few years ago found that breastfeeding requires babies to burn about 284KJs of energy per feeding while bottle feeding requires them to burn about 282 KJs of energy. So, contrary to popular belief, bottle-feeding is not 'easier' for babies. What's more, breastfeeding requires the breastfeeding baby to be in close contact with the Mother's body and skin, which provides the additional benefits that come from reducing cortisol levels."
3. You Can't Touch The Baby & Preemies Shouldn't Be Held
"It was once believed that preemies were better off left in incubators because incubators keep them warm, Abdur-Rahman says. "
"While it is true that preemies tend to have a tougher time maintaining their body temperature, research has shown that the 'kangaroo' method of cuddling babies on their mom or dad's chest keeps them just as warm as leaving them in an incubator does. What's more, the skin-to-skin contact has been shown to lower the baby's stress levels. With these lower stress levels the babies release less cortisol, the body's stress hormone. With lower cortisol levels, babies tend to have more vigorous immune systems and are better able to fight off infection."
"Parental involvement is extremely important for the babies and we encourage parents to be at the bedside, touch the babies, and hold them," Garbi says. "Of course, good hand washing must always be done to prevent the spread of infection."
4. You Did Something To Cause The Premature Birth
Dr. Garbi says the cause of the overwhelming majority of premature births is unknown. "Mothers may carry guilt and blame themselves, but there is really nothing they could have done to prevent the baby being born."
5. Pelvic Rest Prevents Preterm Birth
"While semen does contain chemicals called prostaglandins — which can cause the uterus to contract — it is typically only full-term uteri that can be stimulated to contract by exposure to prostaglandins," Abdur-Rahman says.
6. Preemie Babies Catch Up With Full-Term Babies By Age 2
Though it's not far off from being true, Abdur-Rahman says this is a myth. "Most research shows that premature babies catch up developmentally with full-term babies by the age of 3."
7. All Preemie Babies Will Have Learning Disabilities
"In reality, only one in three preemies will have learning disabilities," Abdur-Rahman says. "Much of this myth results from the fact that preemies are born with smaller brains than their full-term counterparts. In fact, on average, preemie baby brains are 11 to 35% smaller than full-term baby brains. Nevertheless, the majority of preemies babies will not suffer long-term intellectual consequences."
8. Premature Babies Have To Delay Their Vaccination Schedule
"Childhood vaccines are not dosed based on a baby's size, so even smaller babies who are lagging behind their full-term counterparts in terms of weight should receive all vaccines based on the standard vaccination schedule," Abdur-Rahman says.
In fact, it could be argued that it's more important for preemies to receive all of their vaccinations and receive them on time because of their weakened immune systems.
"What's more, many preemies have weaker immune systems than their full-term counterparts. This results from the fact that many of the antibodies that babies get from their mothers during pregnancy cross the placenta in the third trimester. Preemies, having been born early, don't receive as many of these immune system boosting antibodies. So, their immune systems tend to be weaker and less responsive, making them more susceptible to infections. Vaccines obviously are meant to protect against infection, so preemies likely benefit from vaccines even more than babies that were born full term," Abdur-Rahman says.
9. Preemie Babies' Lung Problems Are Always Temporary & Resolve After A Few Weeks
Unfortunately this is a myth as well. "Babies that are born prematurely certainly are more likely to have acute breathing problems immediately after delivery because their lungs are not as well developed as the lungs of full-term babies," Abdur-Rahman says. "While it is true that within a few weeks — especially with intensive care — the lungs mature and become more functional, however, even after a preemie baby's lungs have matured, they are still 50% more likely to develop asthma later in life than are babies that are born at term."