Premature and Neonatal Babies

What to expect if your pēpi arrives earlier than planned or if they’re unwell and need extra care.

In New Zealand, approximately one in 10 babies are born premature – that’s before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Depending on each baby’s condition and how early they’re born, they may require admission to a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).

There are some babies that will be at higher risk for being born premature, such as twins, while other babies who have medical conditions may be more likely to need extra care. Even babies that are born at full term can become unwell and may require a stay in NICU. We’re lucky to have an incredible healthcare system with dedicated specialist doctors and nurses whose job is to care for the sickest of babies.


Premature labour

Some people who go into labour early start experiencing regular, mild contractions, while for others the first sign is their waters breaking. You may be given medication to slow down or delay labour and you may also receive steroid treatment to assist with the development of your baby’s lungs. If your waters break and you aren’t having contractions, you may be admitted to hospital for monitoring and to decide the next steps.

If you think you are going into labour early, call your LMC right away.

As a general rule of thumb, babies that are born early will need to stay in NICU until they reach their due date.

Neonatal babies

Depending on the condition of your pēpi, they may need help with:

  • Breathing
  • Feeding – they may require a feeding tube until they’re strong enough to suck
  • Temperature control – in this instance they will be put in an incubator
  • Fighting an infection

Even if you are prepared for your baby to be admitted to NICU, it can be an overwhelming or frightening experience seeing your beloved baby surrounded by so much medical equipment. The staff will help you to begin expressing to encourage your milk to come in and build a good supply. They will also encourage you to have skin-to-skin cuddles when your baby is able to and show you how to care for your baby during their time in NICU.

Your pēpi needs your love just as much as they need help from the medical professionals. But you need support too. Friends and whānau can help by driving you to and from the hospital, preparing meals for you, and taking care of any older tamariki.

The Neonatal Trust is a charity that works to support parents of neonatal babies. Visit for more information about how they can help.

If your baby is born premature (before the end of 36 weeks’ gestation) and you are eligible for paid parental leave payments, you may be entitled to preterm baby parental leave payments for a continuous period of up to 13 weeks.


These payments will start from the date your baby is born and finish when your baby reaches the date that would have been the end of 36 weeks of your pregnancy, had your baby not been born early.


Provided you don’t return to work or stop being the primary carer of your child, your paid parental leave payments can begin from then.


You can apply for preterm baby parental leave payments through Inland Revenue.