If you've already been diagnosed with pregnancy complications that are likely to result in your child's preterm delivery, you may be anxious about what the future holds for you and your baby. Fortunately, advances in neonatal medical technologies have made it much easier for physicians to treat preterm babies, improving survival rates and decreasing the odds of long-term complications related to early birth. Read on to learn more about some medical devices and procedures that will help your infant learn to breathe and eat on his or her own much more quickly than you might expect.
A nasogastric tube, or NG tube, is designed to provide your baby with nutrition before he or she is reliably able to swallow without help by running a tube from your baby's nose directly into his or her stomach. Although babies practice swallowing in the womb (often leading to the hiccups you may have felt), this skill takes some time to perfect, and premature babies are often at a greater risk of aspirating (instead of swallowing) milk when they try to suckle. This aspiration can lead to lung infections or even prevent your baby from being able to take in enough oxygen, so an NG tube is crucial in many scenarios in which your baby's suckling mechanisms may not quite be up to snuff.
An NG tube is also helpful when it comes to determining how much your baby is (or should be) eating. Because it's simple to measure the amount of nutritious milk or formula being funneled through the NG tube (along with the weight of your baby's diapers), neonatal physicians and nurses can be confident your baby is taking in the food he or she needs.
A continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine is often needed to help premature infants' lungs develop and ensure that they're given an adequate supply of oxygen before they're able to breathe well on their own. Because oxygen deprivation can cause a number of long-term negative effects, it's crucial to ensure your baby's oxygen saturation levels (often called "sats") are healthy, and a bubble CPAP is a simple and inexpensive way to do this.
This machine works by supplying a steady stream of oxygen (usually through a tiny nose cannula) to your baby and providing continuous pressure for this oxygen by submerging the other end of the tube in water. This ensures that even babies whose breathing is weak are able to take in sufficient oxygen to heal and grow.