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About Premature Baby Development

By Sarah Davis ; Updated June 13, 2017

Premature babies are born before their due date and often have both health and developmental problems because of it. Many premature babies grow well with time and go on to live healthy, happy lives as children and adults. Some babies born premature suffer poor development, mentally and physically, which, unfortunately, can affect their whole lives.

Definition of Prematurity

According to the March of Dimes, babies born between 37 and 42 weeks of pregnancy are full-term babies, while babies born before 37 weeks in the womb are premature. There are varying degrees of prematurity as well, for example, a baby born 36 weeks may be premature but have very few health problems. A baby born at 30 weeks of gestation may be very premature and have to stay in the neonatal intensive care unit for up to a month.

Risks for Premature Babies

Babies who are born premature face higher rates of many different health problems, which can hinder their ability to develop at a normal rate. The March of Dimes states that premature babies often face problems like jaundice, anemia, lung disease, and infections. These problems can get in the way of hunger and eating ability, slowing down growth. Babies born early have low immune systems, so they are also at risk for infections like pneumonia.

Adjusted Age

The adjusted age of a baby is how old the baby is, minus how many weeks premature the baby was born. This is a helpful tool in allowing parents to compare the abilities of their baby or child to others of the same appropriate age. The Baby Center website states adjusted age is often used by health care professionals to analyze development as well. For example, if a baby is 4 months old but she was born 1 month early, her adjusted age is 3 months old.

Brain Development

The mental development of a premature baby is a concern for most parents of premature infants. This is because their brains were not fully developed at birth, so they tend to develop slower compared to other babies. Baby Center states that brain development for premature babies often depends on adjusted age. For example, a baby who is 4 months old but born 2 months early may only be able to reach the developmental milestones of a 2 month old. Additionally, premature babies sometimes face learning and behavioral problems like mental retardation and cerebral palsy. Every baby develops at a different pace, however, and the only thing parents can do is nurture their child as best as possible by giving her love and education from an early age.

Body Development

The parenting website Baby Center states that most babies born premature eventually catch up to those in their same age range as far as body development. It may take 2 or 3 years, yet a baby born small because she was premature will probably be around the same size or just slightly smaller than her peers by age 3. The earlier the baby was born, the longer it will take for the baby to catch up in growth.

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