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NICU Follow Up Clinic: October, 2, 20111

Holly Hanni knows the trials and tribulations of mothering a preemie.

“His lungs are just so underdeveloped that he’s just prone to all of those lung diseases and breathing treatments just because he was so premature.”

Eight to 10% of pregnancies in the U.S. result in a premature birth, arriving before the 37th week. Babies weigh less and may have health problems due to underdeveloped organs.

Ellie Gillespie overcame a great deal as a newborn.

“In the beginning definitely eating was an issue for her. She was tube fed for the first 25 days; she only took a bottle about four days before they released her from the NICU.”

Fast-forward a few months when families are living under one roof. Many parents are plagued with doubts about how their child stacks up and when they’ll catch up to their peers.

“I really look at the parenting books that say in the first year these are all the things they should be. It’s sort of discouraging when you feel like your baby is behind,” says Ellie.

To help parents adjust and keep babies on track, the Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida offers a NICU follow up clinic.

“They have to be 6 weeks or more early to come to our program. We follow them until they’re about 3 years of age,” says Sherri Campbell, nurse practitioner with the Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida.

Experts track preemies with adjusted ages and weights, looking for trouble spots.

“Early on we check muscle tone, we check reflexes and sometimes it’s just an abnormal crawl or an unusual pattern of movement,” says Campbell.

Babies are diagnosed quickly and their parents are taught to make adjustments or are referred to therapy.

“We’re terribly picky here and that’s because we want these ex-preemies to reach their highest potential. We want them to be like regular kids,” says Campbell.

Sometimes all that’s needed is reassurance.

“It’s encouraging to the parents to see that they’re following the curve, they’re growing like other preemies grow,” says Campbell.