Late preterm infants are so often misunderstood. People tend to view them as little versions of full term infants and therefore expect them to thrive without any interventions, just as older gestation infants would do.
My goal as the author of a new title, Breastfeeding Challenges Made Easy for Late Preterm Infants: the Go-To Guide for Nurses and Lactation Consultants, is to educate medical professionals about what it really means to be a late preterm infant and how these babies have an uphill battle when we treat them like full term babies, especially when it comes to breastfeeding.
One of my favorite aspects of working as a nurse in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) over the past couple of decades was being assigned to late preterm infants. They are so cute. They are floppy; they roll their eyes at you; they smirk, and they can be awake one moment and asleep the next. It is in our nature to become passive with these docile babies. However, it is that passiveness that has such a negative effect on the health of late preterm infants.
Over the past decade, medical advances have led to many more late preterm infants being born, and much stronger, healthier late preterm infants. These babies, who were always cared for in the NICU setting until just recently, are now being considered healthy enough to be cared for in the regular nursery or with their mothers in a postpartum dyad setting. While being together with their mothers is a major advancement with many positive effects, this move from the intensive care setting has led to a shift of even more passive treatment for these babies.
It’s not okay to wait until late preterm infants show signs and symptoms of being ineffective at breastfeeding to do something about it. That is like telling a diabetic they can eat all the sugar they want until their pancreas gives out, and then we will treat them. History, research, and statistics tell us that late preterm babies need assistance until they can prove they are strong enough and mature enough to fully breastfeed unaided.
We need to change our focus from “routine care” of these babies to “proactive care”. My book describes exactly how this can be achieved using evidence- based practices. Hopefully soon, proactive care of late preterm infants will become routine. Then these babies will thrive.