Premature Baby Development Week-by-Week

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Parents with premature babies will be informed and involved in all aspects of their baby’s development. Premature baby development will be determined by gestation; however, each baby’s journey is unique. Being involved in your baby’s journey, reaching milestones and growing and developing can be amazing experience. Keep reading to learn more about what you might experience on your preemie’s development journey.

Premature Baby Development: What to Know

Before getting into the details of preterm babies’ development and growth, there are a few things that may be helpful to know, including what appointments to expect if you’re back home. You will be an integral part of the neonatal care team as a parent and encouraged and supported to be the primary caregiver to your baby.

Your Preterm Baby’s First Doctor Appointment

What happens once you take your preemie baby home from the hospital, what appointments should you anticipate and where can you get the support you need? These are all important and common questions, and there are a few points of contact that will (or could) be in your baby’s life once they’re home. They include:

  • Your GP. After your baby is born, you’ll register them with your GP and they’ll receive a health check six to eight weeks after the birth.

  • A midwife or health visitor. Your midwife will be available to help you and your baby in the first 28 days after delivery. You’ll also receive visits from a health visitor and there are specialist Neonatal Health Visitor Ambassadors trained specifically in caring for premature babies and ex-neonatal unit babies.

  • Community nurse. If your preemie needs support breathing or feeding after being home, you’ll rely on a community nurse or a paediatric outreach team (in some areas). They meet with parents regularly to support preemies that still require medical assistance.

  • Specialists. Babies born before 30 weeks and babies with specific needs may need additional support from specialists like physiotherapists, ophthalmologists, occupational therapists, dietitians, community consultants or speech therapists.

How to Help Support a Premature Baby’s Development

Whether you’re in hospital or back home with your baby born prematurely, there are many ways you can help support your baby’s development and growth, including the following:

  • Provide skin-to-skin contact. Holding your preterm against your bare skin is the best way to have skin-to-skin contact, also known as ‘kangaroo care’. It helps to calm both you and your baby, reducing stress to help them sleep. It also supports brain growth and development and enhances your close and loving relationship. When skin-to-skin contact is not possible, there are other ways to provide touch, like holding your hand or finger.

  • Encourage napping. If your preterm is out of hospital and at home, let them sleep and nap as much as possible. Sleep is one of the best ways to encourage growth and development.

  • Limit loud noises. Noisy environments can cause stress and prevent your baby from getting the sleep they need for development. At home, you can try to keep the environment as quiet and calm as possible by limiting loud noises around your baby and using a gentle voice to soothe them. Plus, hearing your voice will release the hormone oxytocin, which is important for your baby’s brain development. Reading and singing to your baby or playing classical music is also beneficial in baby development.

  • Comfort with your scent. The scent of your skin and your breast milk can have a comforting and nurturing effect on your baby – it can help regulate their heart rate, and breathing and reduce stress. If you can’t hold your preemie yet, placing a miniboo with the scent of you or your partner near your preemie can also bring them comfort and promote close and loving relationships during their crucial developmental stage. Avoid using perfumes or scented soap so that your baby can know you by your natural scent.

Premature Baby Development

Every baby grows and develops at their own unique rate. Still, professionals have identified common milestones that children reach, and it’s possible to chart this development for premature babies, too, by using the corrected gestational age.

A premature baby’s development timeline must consider the child’s corrected age. For example, if your 4-month-old baby was born one month early, their corrected age is 3 months, so you would anticipate three-month milestones even though they’re 4 months old. Once you have your premature baby’s corrected age, you can refer to a development milestones chart to track their growth. After your baby turns 2 years old, you no longer need to refer to this corrected age. If you have any questions or concerns, it’s best to address them with your GP or health visitor.

So, how do premature babies develop? The short answer is that some may reach typical development milestones a little later than full-term babies. Below you’ll find milestones for language, physical and social development based on corrected gestational age for premature babies – but remember, every baby is unique and they develop at different rates, whether they’re preterm or full-term. The health professionals that help you in the care of your preemie can provide guidance and support to help your baby progress.

Language Development in Premature Babies

For language development, you can use the corrected age to anticipate the milestones in the chart below during your preemie’s first year. You can use this chart as a rough guide to track their progress in meeting these common milestones.

Corrected AgeDevelopment Milestone 
1 MonthCrying as communication (when hungry, wet, tired, etc.) 
 Cooing (making vowel sounds like ooh and aah)
 Making sounds when you talk to them
  
4 Months Laughing and squealing
 Stopping cries when hearing other voices
  
6 Months Babbling (making sounds with consonants, like ga, ba, da, etc.)
 Repeating sounds you make
 Grunting, growling, or other deep-toned sounds
  
9 MonthsSaying up to three words, such as ‘mama’ or ‘dada’
  
12 MonthsLooking at an object when you refer to it
 Communicating by pointing
  

 

Physical Development in Premature Babies

Just like language development, premature babies may reach physical and gross motor skill milestones a little later than babies born at full term. That doesn’t mean a baby born at 25 weeks won’t reach the same milestones as a baby born at 35 weeks. It simply means it may take a little longer for a preemie baby to start showing signs of the physical developments in their first year, such as those first steps.

The timeline below is a guide to the physical developments to anticipate in premature babies. But remember, every baby (preterm or full-term) is different and they can all develop at their own rate. If you have any concerns about your baby’s progress, there are a wealth of professionals to talk to, so reach out to your GP or health visitor for more advice.

Corrected AgeDevelopment Milestone
1 MonthWaving arms and legs or wiggling when on their back
 Turning their head when on their tummy
 Watching and following their hands as they move
  
4 MonthsMoving their head back and forth when on their back
 Holding their head up when on their tummy
 Keeping their head steady when in a sitting position (with your support)
  
6 MonthsLifting legs high enough to see their feet when on their back 
 Rolling over from back to front
 Standing and supporting their own weight (while you hold their hands)
  
9 MonthsTaking steps while holding onto furniture
 Picking up something like a toy with one hand
 Putting toys down without dropping them
  
12 MonthsTaking steps without tripping or falling (while you hold their hands)
 Standing independently and possibly taking a few steps on their own
 Helping turn the pages of a book
  

 

Social Development in Premature Babies

Social milestones are also part of your baby’s development, and something to look forward to. Remember that you might not notice typical social cues like eye contact or smiling in the early days, whether you have a baby born at 24 weeks or a baby born at 34 weeks. You may need to wait until they reach the following corrected ages.

Corrected AgeDevelopment Milestone
1 MonthAppearing excited when they see you
 Smiling at you when you talk to them
  
4 MonthsSmiling and cooing at themselves when looking in a mirro
 Smiling when they see you
 Making sounds when looking at people or toys
  
6 MonthsTurning to look when hearing a noise
 Reaching toward their reflection when looking in a mirror
 Reacting differently toward someone they know versus a new person
  
9 MonthsFollowing simple commands, like ‘come here’ or ‘put it down’
 Playing one or two nursery games with you
  
12 MonthsShowing affection to a doll or toy
 Playing by rolling or tossing a toy back and forth with you
  

 

It’s important to note that every baby is different, and whether they’re premature or full-term, they can all develop at different rates. To monitor their growth and development, it's essential to work closely with your GP or health visitor who can provide guidance and support to help your baby progress.

As your Premature Baby Grows: Tips for Parents

You’re not alone – there’s a lot of support out there for families experiencing a neonatal journey! We’ve rounded up five additional tips to help support you on your preterm journey.

1. Provide a Soothing Environment

As a preterm, your baby may be sensitive to noises or new experiences. Try to be especially careful when your baby is tired or trying to concentrate on difficult skills, such as feeding or listening to your voice. Be aware of places and situations that tend to be overwhelming and try to avoid them. For example, the simple act of going to the supermarket may be too much. And if you want, you can purchase little badges that say ‘I was a premature baby, please do not touch’.

2. Be Aware of Pacing and Timing

Pre-term babies are working on organising their sleep-wake schedules as well as coping with caregiving from different people. Look for signals that your baby is ready for play but be sure to give your baby pauses when they need to recover or take a nap.

3. Have a Routine

Just like most adults, having some sort of routine may benefit your baby, especially at bedtime. Providing some consistency with bedtime and putting your baby to sleep in the same bed can help your baby feel safe and relaxed in their environment. Of course, each day may be different from the next, so having a consistent, happy and loving carer(s) is what matters most.

4. Be Responsive to Your Baby’s Needs

Babies are able to self-soothe and self-regulate. You will see how amazing they are and what they can do as they develop. However, preterm babies may need extra assistance, such as supporting their shoulders to help move their hands to the mouth, or providing a stable arm for support. These little adjustments can have a significant impact on their developmental progress, and the more time you spend with them, the more in tune you’ll be to their needs. And did you know that skin-to-skin offers the ideal environment for your baby to learn and develop? Trained specialists can provide guidance personalized to your baby's unique needs to help support their growth.

5. Handle and Position Your Baby With Care

When your baby is awake and you’re holding them or changing their nappy, for example, it’s important to move them gently and slowly. Use gentle talking and slow introductions to avoid startling them, such as ‘Hello, OK, so we are going to do a nappy change now’. Reading your baby’s cues and responding accordingly is important.

Premature babies are also still working hard to self-organise. Holding your child close so they feel the support and warmth from your body can help until their movements are more purposeful and controlled. Babies born prematurely sometimes have difficulty with fast movements, and you're likely to see 'I'm overwhelmed' signals when moved quickly or without a blanket or body support.

FAQS AT A GLANCE

Preterm babies’ development requires a corrected age. For example, if your 4-month-old baby was born one month early, their corrected age is 3 months, so you would anticipate three-month milestones even though they’re 4 months old. With that logic, babies born prematurely might not reach the developmental milestones of a newborn until their corrected age reaches their due date. But remember that every child is unique and develops at their own pace, including those born prematurely.

In Summary

Though it’s difficult to predict your premature baby’s development, you may wish to use this article and the charts above to anticipate language, physical and social milestones. Just remember to use your baby’s corrected age, because your baby arrived sooner than their due date and may need a little extra time to reach gestational milestones. Being a parent to a preemie isn’t easy and there’s lots of support out there. You’re not alone, and before you know it, you’ll be on your way home or to the next part of your journey. So, enjoy watching your baby grow and thrive!

Friends and families of babies born prematurely can now order their Pampers Preemie Protection Nappies online for free home delivery via www.pampers.co.uk/preemies-ordering-platform. Pampers also continue to donate Pampers Preemie Protection nappies direct to hospitals, and via ASDA pharmacies (in-store only and subject to availability) How We Wrote This Article The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the National Health Service (NHS), and is written in collaboration with Claire Campbell, Neonatal Care Coordinator, NHS Northern Neonatal Network. You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.

About Claire Campbell

Claire is a dedicated nurse with 37 years of experience in neonatal care. Passionate about supporting families, she has been honored with the Patient Champion of the Year and Neonatal Nurse of the Year Awards in the UK. She has also developed a widel...

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