BUYING CLOTHING FOR A PREMMIE OR NICU BABY
When buying clothes for an early baby there's a few things to look for, particularly for babies in NICU or SCBU - this guide covers the basic equipment used in neonatal units.
If baby is small but not needing medical assistance (for example some IUGR babies), any style in the right sizing will be ok. A more pre-term or unwell baby will likely have a number of monitors attached and oxygen requirements, so they'd need clothing that opens up completely at the front for easy dressing.
Prem Sizing, Fit and Fabric Types:
Having clothes that fit baby correctly mean that they can use their precious energy for growing and developing, instead of trying to keep warm! Our clothing sizes are measured by the baby's weight because we've found this is the most accurate way to get the correct fit. For more detailed info on our sizing please check out our Size Guide.
Prem clothing should fit snugly, particularly around the neckline, chest and sleeves. We don't recommend buying dolls or teddy bear clothing, a premature baby hasn't had the chance to gain additional weight like a full-term infant (and they certainly aren't fat and fluffy like a teddy bear!) so the clothes will probably be very baggy. Toys' clothing are usually made with cheap material and fasteners which will irritate baby's delicate skin.
Look for clothing made with all natural fibres like 100% Cotton. Natural fabrics are soft, breathable and won't cause overheating - for babies in neonatal units (and especially in the heated cots) this is often a requirement. Merino is the best option if you can afford it and is actually perfect for tiny babies to wear all year round. The fibres of Merino wool keep in the warmth but are still breathable, which helps to keep baby's temperature regulated.
Incubators and Body Temperature:
When a very premature baby is born they cannot regulate their own body temperature, so an incubator keeps them consistently warm. During this time they usually don’t wear anything other than a nappy and sometimes a hat, as the differences in clothing and fabric types would make it hard to keep the baby at an even temperature. The incubator is gradually lowered to room temperature as the baby grows. Once baby is big enough (in most cases they must weigh over 1.4kg - 3lbs), they will be moved into an open cot and dressed in appropriate clothing.
Oxygen requirements from NICU to Home:
For babies who need assistance breathing (on a ventilator, BiPAP, CPAP, high flow or low flow oxygen) tops and bodysuits that are pulled over baby's head are awkward and sometimes nearly impossible to get on! Putting clothing over the head can also knock the nasal prongs that rest just inside baby’s nostrils.
Depending on the type of breathing equipment, the prongs may be held in place on the baby’s cheeks with adhesive medical tape or a wrap-around fabric strap. Babies can be discharged to home while still needing oxygen, so the front opening or 'kimono' style clothing can be very helpful.
Monitoring in the Neonatal Unit:
Along with the oxygen, most babies will be on a cardio respiratory monitor. This has 3 small discs attached with an aqua-gel to baby’s chest, with leads (also called wires) that connect the discs to the monitor. Front opening clothing - with domes or velcro, not zips - allows for the leads to be easily threaded out through the clothing. See our NICU Clothing section for a range of items made especially for babies in neonatal care.
Finally, a probe is usually wrapped around the baby’s foot, to measure the oxygen saturation in the blood. This also has a lead that connects it to the monitor, so footed pants would mean the lead would have to run the whole way up the leg and then out at the waist. For this reason most of the pants in our range do not have feet - regular pants, gowns, or all in one styles (with domes down the legs, not zips!) are best.
Every baby is unique, some babies will be into newborn clothing within a week or two of their due date, whereas others still fit prem sizes for a quite a while after coming home. If you're looking to buy something for a baby in NICU but are unsure on what clothing to buy, Prem Milestone Cards, a Baby Book or Octoprem (the premmie octopus) also make thoughtful gifts.