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. More information on speech-language delays and prematurity.
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.
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.