One question that I used to receive a LOT, and still hear from time-to-time, is this:
Do you have to be really super vigilant when it comes to cleaning your house when you a very early preemie?
The answer to that, of course, is not simple and varies from family to family. The easiest response, though, is “yes, definitely, to a certain degree.” The biggest universal reason for this comes down to one single body part:
Micropreemies pretty much never go home with strong, healthy lungs. Some are healthier than others, to be sure, but almost all are still pretty fragile. They may be on oxygen, c-pap machines, apnea monitors, or even home ventilators. Some will be receiving daily breathing treatments.
For some of these babies, dust, dander, pet hair, pollen, and other allergens can be great irritants. Careful dusting, vacuuming, replacing filters, and cleaning the vents can go a long way in reducing the number of these little buggers in your home. Many parents of tiny preemies call in a professional to really get those vents cleaned out a week or more before coming home. This allows any loosened dust and allergens to settle in the home, where they can be vacuumed, swept, or dusted away.
Another grave concern for preemie parents are simple cold viruses. When an otherwise-healthy, full-term baby catches a cold, it is sad and miserable. Still, saline drops, an aspirator (nose sucker to some of you), and plenty of TLC are enough to get most babies through just fine. Micropreemies, however, have a high risk of a cold developing into RSV, bronchitis, pneumonia, or other complications. Many pediatricians who would advise simply keeping your full-term baby comfortable at home want to see micropreemies at the first sniffle or cough. Their tendency toward having chronic lung disease (CLD) [also called broncho-pulmonary disease (BPD)] ups the stakes and merits quick attention.
To help minimize those cold viruses, preemie parents tend to be vigilant hand-washers, liberal users of hand sanitizer (weather alcohol- or herb-based), and avoiders of crowded places during cold season. There is no perfect way to avoid the cold virus, and most preemies will still fall victim to at least one cold a season, but most of us parenting these babies do our best to minimize exposure.
Some very premature babies eventually outgrow their “higher risk” status. Our former micropreemie, now six years old, no longer requires any special treatment when it comes to colds. She goes to public school, gets sick sometimes, and her body fights it off like any other healthy child. We’re very lucky, though, in that her “lung issues” were fairly minimal by micropreemie standards. She did come home on oxygen, but was released by pulmonology (and from her O2 tank) by six months old. By two years old, she had outgrown her CLD diagnosis. Even so, I will say that she’s the only one of our children to ever require nebulized albuterol to help her breathe through a cold– it’s definitely different.
So… are we micropreemie parents fanatical cleaners? As you probably already guessed, it depends. It depends on the health and age of the specific child, the current state of the home, the personality of the parent, and the risks vs. benefits in any particular situation.
As for me? Well, like I said, my little micropreemie has grown into a strong, healthy little girl. So don’t be expecting too much around here.