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Heather Hanks
Written by Heather Hanks

Reviewed by Physician Anita Pee and Dr Angelica L Dumapit on October 25, 2022

How To Care For Yourself And Your Premature Baby As They Grow

Caring for a premature baby while you are trying to recover from labor is a challenging task. These remedies can support your baby's health and give you strength and energy for proper recovery.

Mother and baby min scaled

Although every baby is different, a premature baby can experience complications such as immature lungs, feeding problems, difficulty regulating body temperature, and slow weight gain.

This may require additional time in the hospital, surgery, or medications. For new moms, taking care of a premature baby while also recovering from childbirth can be a difficult process.

During this time, both you and your baby need extra care. Developing a postnatal care plan that includes Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) remedies can help.

What Is A Premature Baby?

A premature baby sleeping in an incubator
Babies born prematurely may require extended hospital stays, medication, or surgery.

A premature baby is one who was born before 37 weeks or at least three weeks before full-term. Normally, a woman carries a baby for 40 weeks.

When a baby is born, they are classified as:

  • Premature (less than 37 weeks)
  • Full term (37 to 42 weeks)
  • Post term (born after 42 weeks)

Pre-term labor may occur due to complications with the mother, such as diabetes, a weak cervix, heart disease, preeclampsia (associated with high blood pressure), poor diet, or kidney disease. Often, it’s unknown what causes premature babies.

According to TCM Physician Anita Pee, “In TCM literature, there is no direct reference to premature babies but there are similar descriptions of babies that are born with lower body weight or weak body constitution.”

These babies are prone to have deficiencies in the five organs that can lead to other health issues. For example:

  • Liver Qi Deficiency may result in poor eyesight or muscle spasms
  • Heart Qi Deficiency may result in pale complexion or cold limbs due poor circulation
  • Spleen Qi Deficiency may result in weak sucking and weak muscles and poor digestion
  • Lung Qi Deficiency may result in recurrent respiratory problems and skin infections
  • Kidney Qi Deficiency may result in slow-growing teeth and sparse hair growth 

Supporting Your Premature Baby As They Grow

Many premature babies will need to be kept in an incubator for the first few weeks of life as they lack body fat and immune cells that keep them warm and healthy.

When it’s time to bring your little one home, your premature baby may still require special care to ensure they grow and develop properly.

“In TCM, the Kidney stores essence, which is responsible for growth and development. Premature babies are born with immature organ functions, especially Kidney insufficiency. Therefore, their growth and development lags behind full-term babies,” stated Physician Pee.

“The Spleen is another important organ that is often insufficient in premature babies, causing poor digestion and weak ability to absorb nutrients from feedings, which also contributes to poor growth and development. Hence, it is important to support Kidney and Spleen health in premature babies to help them grow better,” continued Physician Pee. 

These therapies can help:

Herbal remedies

Common TCM herbs to boost Spleen health and improve digestion and appetite in babies include:

Common herbal formulas include Si Shen Tang and Bao He Wan. To improve Kidney health, herbs such as Rehmannia Root (Shu Di Huang), Cornus Fruit (Shan Zhu Yu), and wolfberry (Gou Qi Zi) can be used. Liu Wei Di Huang Wan is a common herbal formula used to strengthen Kidney health and can help promote growth and development. 

Pediatric tuina

A pair of adult hands massaging the back of an infant, performing pediatric tuina
You can promote better growth in your baby by using pediatric tuina.

Pediatric tuina is a safe, non-invasive method of TCM treatment to treat and prevent minor childhood ailments and promote better growth. For premature babies, the following points can be used: 

Bu Pi Jing is located on the outer edge of the thumb, stroke the thumb from its tip to its root for one minute.
  • Bu Pi Jing (strengthening the Spleen meridian): This helps to strengthen Spleen health and improve digestion. 
Si Heng Wen is located on the transverse crease of the proximal interphalangeal joint of fingers, stroke across the crease from the index finger to the little finger for one minute.
  • Tui Si Heng Wen (stroking the four horizontal crease): This helps to promote digestion, reduce food stagnation and relieve bloating. 
Shen Shu is located on the back, at the level of L2, on both sides of the spine. Massage both points with the thumb for 1 minute.
  • Rou Shen Shu (massaging the Kidney point): This helps to strengthen Kidney health and boost growth and development. 
Nie Ji is located on the back along the spine. Pinch and roll the skin from the base of the spine upwards to the base of the neck, and repeat 5 times.
  • Nie Ji (spine pinching): This helps to boost immunity and benefits all the organ systems in the body. 

Safety Precautions To Take With A Premature Baby

“Within the first 6 months of birth, it is not recommended to give TCM herbs to premature babies as their organ systems are weak and may not be able to tolerate herbal remedies. Pediatric tuina is also better suited for babies above 6 months old when their bodies are stronger. Do consult a TCM physician for professional advice on suitable TCM treatments for your premature baby,” stated Physician Pee.

Postnatal Care Tips For Moms Of A Premature Baby

Generally, there is no difference between mothers of premature babies and mothers of full-term babies in terms of health issues after delivery. Childbirth is a tedious process that, coupled with blood loss, can cause mothers to feel lethargic, look pale, perspire excessively, and have poor appetite. It can also be difficult to keep up with the demands of breastfeeding.

“From a TCM point of view, the Spleen and Stomach are responsible for transforming food into nutrients, which are sources of qi and blood as well as breastmilk. It is important to strengthen the Spleen and Stomach by consuming tonics such as Huang Qi, Dang Shen and Chinese yam cooked with chicken. Other tonics, such as red dates and wolfberries, can be consumed to help replenish blood and aid in recovery after delivery,” recommended Physician Pee.

Postnatal mothers can also enjoy an herbal bath to help soothe stress, promote circulation, and support Stomach health. Additionally, adding bird’s nest to your diet can help support recovery. It’s high in antioxidants to support immunity and amino acids to rebuild tissues and cells.

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