An infant is considered premature when born before 37 weeks gestation. Late preterm infants are those born between 35 and 37 weeks.
Signs of prematurity include:
- Abnormal breathing patterns
- Less body fat
- Lower muscle tone and less activity than full-term infants
- Feeding difficulties due to trouble sucking or coordinating swallowing and breathing
- Soft, flexible ear cartilage
- Thin, smooth, shiny skin that is often transparent (can see veins under skin)
- Body hair
- Enlarged clitoris (in female infants)
- Small scrotum that is smooth and has no ridges, and undescended testicles (in male infants)
Premature infants are at risk for long-term medical, developmental, or behavioral problems that may continue into childhood or may be permanent. Although the risk of complications increases with a lower birth weight and the more premature the infant is, it is not possible to predict long-term outcomes based on prematurity or birth weight.
Long-term difficulties in premature infants can include:
- Bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD)
- Delayed growth and development
- Mental or physical disability or delay
- Retinopathy of prematurity, vision loss, or blindness
A variety of pregnancy-related problems increase the risk of preterm labor or early delivery:
- A weakened cervix that begins to open (dilate) early, also called cervical incompetence
- Birth defects of the uterus
- History of preterm delivery
- Infection (such as a urinary tract infection or infection of the amniotic membrane)
- Poor nutrition right before or during pregnancy
- Preeclampsia — high blood pressure and protein in the urine that develop after the 20th week of pregnancy
- Premature rupture of the membranes (placenta previa)
Implications for speech and language:
Premature birth may result in developmental delays, including speech and language delays. Children with delayed speech and language skills may benefit from early intervention to help develop age-appropriate communication skills. For more information on speech-language delays and prematurity, please see: http://www.prematurity.org/child/language.html
Books for kids:
- Lafferty, L. (1998). Born Early: A Premature Baby’s Story.Minneapolis, MN: Fairview Press. Murphy-Melas, E. (1996).
- Watching Bradley Grow: A Story About Premature Birth Marietta, GA: Longstreet Press .
Books for Parents:
- Harrison, H. (1983). The Premature Baby Book: A Parents’ Guide to Coping and Caring in the First Years. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
- Klein, A.H., & Ganson, S.A. (1998). Caring for Your Premature Baby: A Complete Resource for Parents. New York: Harper Collins Publishers.
- Online forum and support group http://www.prematurity.org/
- Any Baby Can: http://www.abcaus.org/
- Easter Seals Central Texas: www.centraltx.easterseals.com
- A Primer on Preemies http://kidshealth.org/parent/growth/growing/preemies.html
- In Spanish: http://kidshealth.org/parent/en_espanol/crecimiento/preemies_esp.html
Premature Infant. (2011, Novermber 14). In Medline Plus. Retrieved from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001562.htm.
Prematurity. (2012, January 24). In Medscape Reference. Retrieved from http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/975909-overview.
Premature Birth. (2011, November 21). In CDC Features. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/Features/PrematureBirth/.
Do you have more great resources for families or community members? We would be happy to add any great resources to this webpage. Please email us with the link or content.