When Can a Premature Baby Leave the Hospital?

Depending on their condition, premature babies often stay in the hospital until they reach the pregnancy due date. If a baby was transferred to another hospital for specialized neonatal intensive care, he or she may be transferred back to the “home” hospital once the condition is stable.

Consult your baby’s physician for information about the specific criteria for discharge of premature babies at your hospital. General goals for discharge may include the following:

  • Serious illnesses are resolved

  • Stable temperature—able to stay warm in an open crib

  • Taking all feedings by breast or bottle

  • No recent apnea or low heart rate

  • Parents are able to provide care including medications and feedings

Before discharge, premature babies also need an eye examination and hearing test to check for problems related to prematurity. Parents need information about follow-up visits with the pediatrician for baby care and immunizations. Many hospitals have special follow-up health care programs for premature and low birthweight babies.

Even though they are otherwise ready for discharge, some babies continue to have special needs such as extra oxygen or tube feedings. With instruction and the right equipment, these babies are often able to be cared for at home by parents. A hospital social worker can often help coordinate discharge plans when special care is needed.

Studies have demonstrated that allowing the parents to stay in the hospital decrease the baby’s length of hospitalization. Ask your baby’s physician about a “trial run” overnight stay in a parenting room at the hospital before your baby is discharged. This can help you adjust to caring for your baby while health care providers are nearby for help and reassurance. Parents may also feel more confident taking their baby home when they have been given instructions in infant CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) and infant safety.

Online Medical Reviewer: DeRosiers, Florence MD

Date Last Reviewed: 4/6/2010

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