Preemie baby milestones may vary significantly from full-term babies. A baby is classified as premature if it is born before 37 week's gestation. Preemie development can affect the baby's ability to breathe, eat, stay warm, react to stimuli, digest and eliminate normally. These are all areas that would have had more time to develop if the baby had completed a gestation of 40 weeks. To monitor growth and development, preemie milestones are based not on when the baby was born, but on the baby's original due date.
Preemies Need Extra Time
Preemies will achieve the same developmental milestones as full-term babies, but it will take longer. They also may need support to reach certain milestones, and this will be evaluated by your doctor to determine what support will be beneficial. Most states have early intervention programs available for preemies. Your child's pediatrician can help you find these services. The evaluation may result in a plan, called an IFSP, or Individual Family Service Plan. The plan includes the family and the school, and helps to give preemies the time they need to catch up with their peers.
Developmental milestones parents should watch for include tasks that a full-term baby would do automatically. Some will be achieved in the neonatal intensive care unit, some at home. These tasks include breathing, eating, digesting, eliminating, grasping, crying, making eye contact, responding to sound and being comforted by touch.
As a preemie gets older, watch for smiles, coos, grasping deliberately, rolling over, sitting, scooting, crawling, pulling up, standing and walking. Increases in language development will also be monitored. Parents should expect delays and be prepared to adjust their expectations.
Delays typically continue until age two to three. At this point, most preemies will catch up with their peers with support. Premature babies do have a higher risk of physical and learning disabilities so support, evaluation and early intervention are of the utmost importance.
In addition to health concerns that you may have, there are other things to consider, such as finding preemie clothes small enough to fit your new bundle (or bundles, as is often the case with preemies) of joy.
Thousands of babies are born prematurely in the United States each year, and perhaps their greatest risk of long-term complications is lung disease symptoms. But researchers have now found that delivering nitric oxide to the lungs of these tiny babies can help.