Prematurity Speech Implications and Resources

Definition:

An infant is considered premature when born before 37 weeks gestation.  Late preterm infants are those born between 35 and 37 weeks.

Description:

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)

Characteristics:

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

Causes:

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

Resources:

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.

Support Groups:

Websites:

References: 

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.