How to Gauge a Premature Baby’s Development
Being the parent of a premature infant is alternately exhilarating and frightening. It’s exciting to see your little one grow, but watching his progress can also be nerve-wracking.
As tempting as it may be to obsess over milestones, it’s also important to remember that your preemie will probably take a few years to catch up to his peers. Remember that your child missed out on critical weeks or months of development within the womb.
With that in mind, you should work closely with your child’s pediatrician to monitor your little one’s development.
4 Steps to Gauge a Premature Baby’s Development
1. Calculate your baby’s adjusted age by subtracting the number of weeks your baby was premature from his chronological age or his age from the day of his birth.
For instance, if your little one was born eight weeks early and is now 20 weeks old, his adjusted age is 12 weeks. In other words, your preemie’s development should be comparable to a 3-month-old baby, not a five-month-old baby.
Physicians typically adjust for prematurity until a baby is 18 to 24 months old, according to the Infant and Toddler Connection of Virginia.
2. Schedule developmental checkups.
Preemies take months, and even years, to catch up developmentally with their peers. Occupational and behavioral therapists will assess your child’s motor skills, reflexes and other milestones in order to stage an early intervention if necessary.
3. Monitor your preemie’s feeding habits carefully, particularly during the first few months.
Write down the time and duration of each feeding and any unique behavior your infant is exhibiting. Signs that there may be a problem include not waking prior to feeding and feedings lasting longer than 20 minutes at one month adjusted age, milk leaking from the mouth at two months adjusted age and gagging on or spitting out solid food at six months adjusted age.
4. Ask your pediatrician for a checklist of motor skill and reflex development milestones for premature babies.
Watch your child carefully and report any delays. Your child may have a problem if he is unable to lift his head by three months adjusted age, cannot kick by two months adjusted age, has stiff arms and legs, is unable to bring his hands to his mouth by three months adjusted age or always lies with his head pointing the same direction.
Tips and Warnings
- With your physician’s permission, encourage your preemie’s development. Make sure your baby gets tummy time to strengthen his neck muscles. Keep the television off to keep your child from becoming overstimulated. Talk to and play with your child, but follow his cues. Preemies need lots of sleep, so playtime may be short.
- Look for support from the hospital, friends and family members. Caring for a premature infant is emotionally and physically taxing.
- Call 911 immediately if your child becomes blue, gray or pale during a feeding. Skin discoloration is a sign that your preemie is having trouble breathing.
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