for a baby born early or who needs the care of the NICU
When buying clothes for a preterm baby there's a few things you'll need to look for, particularly for babies that are in NICU or SCBU. This guide also has a bit of info on the basic equipment used in neonatal units, so it should help if you're unfamiliar with the medical side of things.
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 premature or unwell baby will likely have a number of monitors attached and oxygen requirements, so they'll need clothing that opens up completely at the front for easy dressing.
PREM SIZING, FIT & FABRICS
Clothes that fit correctly allow baby to 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 please check out our Size Guide. Every baby is unique, some will be wearing newborn clothing close to their due date but others still fit prem sizes for a quite a while after coming home.
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 they'll be too baggy. Toys' clothing are usually made with cheap materials which can be unsafe and irritate baby's delicate skin.
Look for clothing made with all natural fibres. Fabrics like 100% Cotton 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 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 & BODY TEMPERATURE
When a very premature baby is born they can't 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 stable enough (in most cases they must weigh over 1.4kg, and usually closer to 2kg), they'll graduate to an open cot and can finally be dressed - this is such a huge step!
OXYGEN REQUIREMENTS (FROM NICU TO HOME)
For babies who need assistance breathing (this could include being 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!
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 having front opening or 'kimono' style clothing always makes life easier.
MONITORS USED IN THE NICU
Along with the oxygen, most babies will be on a cardio respiratory monitor. This has 3 small discs attached to baby's chest using aqua-gel, 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 with footed pants the lead needs 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.
WHAT ELSE DO BABIES IN NICU NEED?
The hospital provides all the basics for baby's stay, including nappies, nappy cream, and bedding. If you're looking to buy something for a family and their baby in NICU there's many more amazing ideas that will make this time a little easier. Prem Milestone Cards, a NICU Journal or BABYink footprint kits help them to record precious memories with their baby, or comforters like Cuski Minoo and Octoprem (the premmie octopus) also make thoughtful gifts.