Some parents of preterm and low birth weight babies are concerned about immunizing their newborns according to the standard schedule created by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and other medical organizations. Their main worry is whether the recommendations were made with full-term, normal weight babies in mind and whether the same guidelines apply to their own newborns. Parents may think that their newborns are just too fragile to be vaccinated because of low birth weight and possible health problems that came with their baby's preterm birth.
Your pediatrician will tell you that all of these babies should be given the routinely recommended childhood vaccinations. They should get every immunization on the standard schedule when they reach the ages at which these shots are normally given to all children.
If you're uncertain, keep in mind:
- If preterm babies get the infections that vaccines can prevent, they have a greater chance of having disease-related problems. See Weighing the Risks and Benefits.
- All of the available vaccines are safe when given to preterm and low birth weight babies.
- Any side effects associated with the vaccines are similar in both full-term and preterm babies.
The hepatitis B vaccine deserves special mention.
In most circumstances, the AAP recommends the hepatitis B vaccine at birth or before the baby is discharged from the hospital to return home. In other words, this vaccine should be given in the first hours or days of life.
Note: If your baby weighs less than 4.4 lbs. (2000 grams) at birth, your pediatrician may decide to delay the hepatitis B vaccine until the baby is one month of age. Nevertheless, medically stable preterm babies weighing more than 4.4 lbs. at birth should be treated like full-term babies and receive the first dose of the hepatitis B immunization according to the recommended schedule.