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Growth & Development

If your baby needed extra care after they were born it is natural to wonder if this will affect how they grow and develop. It will depend very much on the reason your baby needed to stay in the neonatal unit. Some babies may recover straight away from their early problems and some may have conditions that mean their growth and development is affected for longer.

If your baby is born early (before 37 weeks gestation) it can take up to two years for them to catch up with other children their age. It might be sooner or later than this depending on your child and the challenges they face.

All babies are different and so it is important to try and focus on helping your child reach their potential in their own time.

  • Your baby will probably have been weighed very regularly whilst on the unit. This allows the team to make sure your baby is getting the nutrition they need to recover and allows them to calculate the drug dosages they need.

    Some babies might need to be weighed on a regular basis after you leave hospital. The neonatal team will advise how often your baby needs to be weighed. You can see NHS guidance on how often healthy babies are weighed *here*.

    *Click here* to look at how to self-weigh your baby and watch the video above to find out how to plot your baby's weight on their growth chart correctly.


  • When babies are born early or are poorly after their birth they are cared for in an environment that is very different from the womb! It is often bright and noisy. They are not able to be in the curled up fetal position of the womb.

    Staff on the unit do all they can to make up for this by having quiet times and trying to keep noise levels as low as possible. Your baby’s position will be adjusted to be as close to a fetal position as their condition allows.

    By the time your baby goes home you should follow the advice for all babies that they sleep on their backs on a flat, firm mattress. This is the safest way for your baby to sleep to keep the risk of sudden infant death low. Read more about safer sleep *here*.

    Head Shape

    Some parents worry about their babies head shape. This nearly always resolves its self  by the time they are one or two years old, or becomes unnoticeable once they have more hair. *Click here* to read more.

    Babies can get a ‘favourite’ side to look towards, because their skulls are still soft it can affect the shape of their head. You can help with this by;

    • Positioning their cot / pram so that  toys, mobiles and things they are interested on their ‘least favourite’ side.
    • Let them spend time in a baby chair or being carried in a sling.
    • Talk to them from their ‘least favourite’ side and encourage them to look towards you.
    • Tummy Time’ play is important for developing muscles and gives a break from pressure on their heads. Begin by laying your baby on their tummy on your chest; they will lift their heads and look at you.

    If you are worried speak to your GP or call Just One Number to speak to a health professional.

  • Your baby may still need feeding support after discharge. They may still be having some feeds by nasogastric tube and / or need special milks or supplements. The team on the neonatal unit will make sure you understand what extra support your baby needs and help you feel confident before you head home.

    The unit will let you know about any vitamins and supplements your baby needs, make sure you have some to take home and know how to order any repeat prescriptions.

    We have a lot of information on Just One Norfolk about feeding your baby. *Click here* to look at our breast and bottle feeding section.

    As time passes you may start wondering when to introduce solid foods. Most health professionals agree that babies who are born early can show signs they are ready to start trying solid foods at about 5-6 months corrected age. However, all babies are different. BLISS has good information on how to decide if your premature baby is ready to try solid foods *here*.

    If your baby is still having follow up visits at the hospital you can discuss weaning at your appointment.

    You can call Just One Norfolk to talk about introducing solids with a health professional.

  • All babies are different. Try not to compare your baby with your other children, or other babies you know. Reaching developmental milestones may take a little longer for premature babies by comparison with babies born at full term. You have an important role to play as your babies first ‘teacher’ and this will help them reach their potential in their own time as well as building a strong bond between you. We have lots of information and tips to help you.

    Click on the links below to find out more;  


  • Immunisations are an important part of protecting babies and children from serious illnesses.

    Even if your baby is born early or has health problems it is still recommended that most babies have their immunisations at their actual age and not their corrected age. This is because the protection from illnesses that babies get from their Mum’s whilst in the womb starts to decrease after the first two months of life.

    The team caring for your baby will be able to give reassurance and advice about this for your baby.

    *Click here* to see the recommended immunisations for babies and when they should be given.

Who Can Help?

You can contact the Healthy Child Programme by calling Just One Number on 0300 300 0123 or texting Parentline on 07520 631590. Our opening hours are 8am-6pm Monday-Friday (excluding bank holidays) and 9am-1pm on Saturdays.

The Hamlet Centre provides nurture groups for babies and families who have spent time on the Neonatal Unit. They cover a range of topics that will be useful to you like weaning and baby massage as well as giving you the chance to talk with other families who have had a similar experience to you. The service is available to families living in Norfolk and Waveney. Click *here* to find out more.

Early Childhood and Family Service is there for all Norfolk families with children under 5. Click the link below to find out more.

'All Things NICU Norfolk' Facebook group - A support group for anyone connected to NICU, including parents and professionals. The group shares information about development and promotes local groups and fundraising. *Click here* to join the group.

The Patient Activation Measure (PAM) Health Questionnaire will help you to think about your knowledge, skills and confidence in understanding and supporting your baby or child’s health. The results of this can help us, to support you, in setting goals and priorities in a way that is right for you and your family. On completion of the questions you will be signposted to some self care resources which are tailored to your responses. This will help you to take steps to improve your family's health and wellbeing. *Click Here* to find out more. 


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