For the first few weeks he's home, it may be hard to guess how your baby is going to behave. But after a short time you'll be able to predict his reactions and responses—his behavior will become part of your routine.

Your preemie will most likely do all of the things that all babies do—it just may take him a little longer. If he's like most NICU babies, he came home even before his original due date. That means he has some catching up to do when it comes to acting like a full-term baby.

While your baby is tiny, he's still very aware of his surroundings. He just doesn't have the same communication skills as an older infant.

Helping Your Baby Learn

How Your Premature Baby may Behave

You may have watched your baby trying to get his hand to his mouth over and over again—without much success. It's not that your baby isn't graceful. It's just that his nervous system isn't fully developed, and his movements aren't as smooth and coordinated as they will be once he's had some time to grow.

Even so, your tiny baby is eager to learn. You can help him by:

  • Holding him while supporting just his head and body while he kicks his legs and waves his arms to help build his muscles
  • Gently playing with him while slowly moving his arms and legs
  • Talking to your baby in a warm, enthusiastic voice, which helps him feel your love
  • Placing your baby on his tummy to play—over time you'll see him practice raising his head (never place your baby on his tummy to sleep)
  • Encouraging him to lift his head and look at you by talking gently and coming close to him with your head above his

Your Baby's Breathing

A baby's breathing patterns can change rapidly without warning. To learn what's normal for your baby, you may want to try:

  • Counting how many times he takes a breath each minute
  • Identifying his moods by watching his chest as he breathes while resting, playing, crying and while he's upset
  • Listening to the noises he makes as he breathes

The more familiar you become with your baby's behavior, the easier it will be to recognize when he's acting differently. Remember, if you're ever concerned about his breathing or color, call the doctor right away.

Your Baby's Sleeping

Your baby will probably sleep more than anything else during his first weeks at home—sometimes 15 to 22 hours a day. Some babies have trouble adjusting from the bright lights and noisy NICU to a more peaceful home environment.

If your baby has trouble sleeping, you may want to try:

  • Using a night light and playing soft background music (gradually lower the lights and turn off the music as he adjusts to being home)
  • Slowing down the way you relate to him in the evening so he learns that nighttime is for sleeping and eating—not for playing