When babies are born early, but not by much, they can still be at risk for problems. But because they may look like their full-term counterparts, late pre-term infants can often fool those who care for them.

Late pre-term infants, born between 34 weeks and 36 weeks and 6 days gestation, may need a little extra care. They definitely need extra attention.

“In 2008, the American Academy of Pediatrics came out with a statement that there was a population of infants that are at a higher risk category,” said Kelli Scheibenhoffer, OB service educator for Bon Secours St. Francis Health System. “They look like full-term babies, but they are great pretenders.”

Scheibenhoffer said nurses at St. Francis Eastside came together recently to get refocused on how to best care for those babies. They went back through medical literature and doctors’ orders, and then they found a way to make those great pretenders stand out from the rest. In labor and delivery, most babies are outfitted with a tiny pink and blue hat. Late pre-term infants now get a red hat.

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“We chose the color red to say, ‘Stop and pay attention to me,’” Scheibenhoffer said. “A lot of these babies will stay out of the NICU. They go to the mother/baby unit.”

Along with the red hat given at delivery, parents get a packet that includes a second red hat, parent education information, a crib card and door magnet that identify the baby as late pre-term and a thermometer for monitoring baby’s temperature.

“These babies tend to be smaller and they tend to drop their temperature faster than a full-term baby,” Scheibenhoffer said.

That thermal instability is addressed by delaying the baby’s first bath, keeping that special hat on and having parents give baby lots of skin-to-skin contact.

Late pre-term babies could potentially face several challenges, including respiratory issues, hypoglycemia, infections, jaundice and feeding issues. They may lack the feeding stamina of a full-term baby, but lactation consultants are prepared to help mothers.

“In South Carolina, about 11 percent of all live births are pre-term,” she said. “Out of those, 70 percent are late pre-term.”

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