According to March of Dimes, 1 out of every 10\u00a0babies will be born prematurely \u2013 meaning before 37 weeks gestation.\u00a0For these preemies, the journey from hospital to home can take weeks, typically beginning with an extended stay in the hospital\u2019s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Premature babies receive highly specialized care and attention during their stay in the NICU in order to help them grow strong enough to be discharged from the hospital.\u00a0Once released,\u00a0what can preemie parents expect\u00a0when\u00a0they\u2019re home with their tiny miracle? Criteria for discharge from the NICU\u00a0 Dr. William A. Engle is a neonatologist at Riley Hospital for Children and an Erik T. Ragan Professor of Pediatrics at Indiana University. When evaluating whether or not a premature baby is ready to be discharged and sent home, Dr. Engle says that physicians will consider a number of factors.\u00a0\u201cMy colleagues and I want to see that the baby has a stable medical status, which often means the baby is breathing regularly without apnea (pauses in breathing).\u201d\u00a0He adds\u00a0that babies should also be gaining weight, maintaining their body temperature outside their\u00a0incubators\u00a0and eating well. Dr. Engle also says that NICU staff work to ensure that\u00a0parents are prepared to care for the baby. \u201cWe encourage parents to assume care responsibilities and learn about their baby\u2019s ongoing needs as early as possible. This way, we know they are fully prepared once they go home.\u201d Preparing for discharge While having a premature baby in the NICU can be scary, knowing there\u2019s a trusted medical team with your baby around the clock\u00a0can ease your anxiety. What about when it\u2019s time to bring\u00a0your infant home? \u201cI strongly encourage families to stay for a day, sometimes two or more, and care for their baby without the nursing team, respiratory care\u00a0or physician team\u2019s assistance,\u201d\u00a0says\u00a0Dr. Engle.\u00a0This is called \u201crooming in\u201d and\u00a0he\u00a0says it\u2019s a great opportunity for families to get more comfortable\u00a0and confident taking over their child\u2019s care. Caring for preemies at home Parents should know\u00a0that if their premature baby has been discharged from the hospital, it\u2019s because hospital staff have determined that the infant\u00a0is healthy enough for home care. Still, there are a few things preemie parents\u00a0will\u00a0want to be prepared for. Oxygen and feeding tubes \u201cWhile most preterm babies go home feeding orally from the breast or bottle, oral feeding is a skill that develops with time,\u201d says Dr. Engle. For this reason, some preemies will get sent home using a feeding tube. Other babies may require home oxygen, breathing treatments\u00a0or cardiorespiratory monitors, but NICU staff are trained to help educate parents on how to use\u00a0these devices. Attending follow-up consultations Following discharge, many preemies will require speech, physical\u00a0or occupational therapy in order to help with feeding and motor development, as well as other forms of evaluations and specialty care. Dr. Engle reminds parents that\u00a0\u201cIn Indiana, the First Steps program provides for in-home speech, physical and occupational therapies for the first three years after birth.\u201d Preemie developmental milestones Pay attention to your preemie\u2019s development milestones, but try not to become too anxious about their progress. It\u2019s normal for\u00a0early babies to be a little late to the game. \u201cParents should adjust their baby\u2019s developmental and growth assessments based on the number of weeks premature,\u201d says Dr. Engle. For example: if your baby is 4 months old, but was born 2 months early, then they are\u00a0considered 2 months old developmentally. All\u00a0new babies, bring joy \u2013\u00a0and jitters \u2013 to their parents. If you have a preemie, remember that\u00a0medical professionals are always there for education and guidance. Take advantage of their knowledge and reach out to other families in similar situations, or support groups for parents of preemies, to get the encouragement and support you need to make\u00a0the\u00a0experience\u00a0with your new baby as positive as possible.