A Guide to Your Growing Preemie

Chances are that as a mom-to-be, you read up on baby development statistics and may even know the details by heart. But if you have a preterm birth, you’ll need to readjust your expectations. Technically, a preterm birth is the arrival of a baby after less than 37 weeks of pregnancy, though your doctor may also define the birth as “late preterm” (34-37 weeks of pregnancy), “very preterm” (less than 32 weeks) or “extremely preterm” (less than 25 weeks). But don’t worry: Preemies tend to develop and grow well, though for a while they’ll lag behind their full-term friends. Here’s what you need to know about your preemie’s growth and development.

Do the math. In order to track your baby’s development, you’ll need to adjust her age. For example, if your baby is 10 weeks old, but was born 5 weeks prematurely, subtract 5 from 10 and you’ll see that she’s actually 5 weeks old in terms of reaching milestones. So while a full-term baby should make eye contact and smile socially by 2 months of age, you’ll need to wait 5 more weeks to see these tricks from your preemie.

Look for improvement. Just because your preemie is progressing at a different rate than others doesn’t mean she won’t be moving forward. Take note of each skill she masters (crawling, waving, walking) and be sure to let the doctor know if she seems to be losing ground (she used to be sitting up well, but now she’s toppling over, for example).

Hold her close. A preemie will benefit greatly from “kangaroo care” or being held skin-to-skin. Lying closely with mom (or dad!) will help boost your preemie’s development in many ways: She’ll cry less, her heartbeat tends to stabilize, her weight may increase, and it’ll improve her ability to breast- or bottle-feed. Find a private spot with a comfy chair and position your preemie so that she can lie underneath your clothing, directly on your chest. Your baby doesn’t need to wear anything except a Pampers diaper because your body heat will keep her warm.

Compared to other babies you know, your preemie’s growth may seem slow at times, but know that this is normal. Talk to your pediatrician if you have any concerns, and remember that, whether or not you can imagine it now, your tiny new baby will soon turn into a boisterous big kid. So savor these precious baby days!