Learning to diaper an infant can be hard for any new parent. For parents of babies born prematurely, it can be even harder to get an awkwardly large diaper on a fragile newborn.
Huggies announced this month that it developed extra-tiny diapers for premature babies — “nano preemies” — who weigh less than 2 pounds. Late last year, Pampers released a diaper three sizes smaller than its standard newborn diapers for babies weighing as little as 1 pound.
Babies born at normal birth weight are about 5.5 pounds to 8.8 pounds, according to the National Institutes of Health. Diapers designed to fit them aren’t snug enough to protect from leakage and sufficiently protect a very small newborn’s skin.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, preterm birth affected roughly one in 10 infants born in the United States in 2014. Only about 1.4% of babies are born with a very low birthweight, less than 3.3 pounds.
Diapers for premature babies from Huggies and Pampers have been on the market for years. But even those were too large for some infants.
“The biggest issue is size and protecting the skin,” said Dr. Valencia Walker, medical director for the UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica neonatal intensive care unit. “The skin of a preterm infant is a little bit more fragile than a full-term infant. So you really want to try and keep that skin dry.
“Babies that are in the NICU are already at increased risk for infection, and any type of skin breakdown will contribute to increasing their risk for infection.”
The specific design and materials of the tiny diapers allow for better protection and comfortable movement. Premature babies have less muscle tone, and the larger diapers do not allow the smaller legs and hips of a preterm baby to rest and move in the correct positions, Walker said.
“People often forget that even though these babies are born early, they’re still babies, and they’re still active,” Walker said. “We have to consider all of those things while we are trying to do things to help them stay alive.
“We have to do things to help them be babies and to help them develop appropriately.”