As a first-time preemie parent, it’s normal to wonder about your preemie’s development pace. One thing to keep in mind is that preemies take longer to reach certain developmental milestones than full-term babies. In general, a preemie’s age will be counted by its due date rather than by when it was born. This means that a 4 month old preemie will be judged developmentally as a two month old. Preemies usually catch up to their full-term counterparts by their first or third years. Parents of preemies must always remember that preemie development is not the same as a full-term baby, and parents should not compare the development of their preemie to other babies.
In general, there are five areas that your pediatrician will constantly monitor in addition to your preemie’s weight:
• Attention: Pediatricians will monitor a preemie's response to outside stimuli such as noises, and how it handles such stimuli.
• Consciousness: This involves how alert a preemie is when awake or semi-conscious.
• Physiological Aspects: Pediatricians will examine how well a preemie’s body carries out automatic functions, such as breathing, bowel functions and digestion.
• Motor Skills: Your preemie’s motor development will also be closely monitored, including its body movement capabilities and the tone of its muscles and posture.
• Self Regulation: In addition to specific monitoring of certain developmental areas, your pediatrician will monitor how your baby is responding to different situations including hunger and overstimulation.
Your Preemie’s Capabilities
• Sight: The eyesight of your preemie will be relatively immature depending on its gestational age. However, this is not a cause for concern as its nearsightedness will begin to disappear once your preemie matures.
• Hearing: You baby’s hearing may not be affected, as hearing tends to begin to develop inside your womb. In fact, your preemie may already be showing signs of voice recognition.
• Sleeping: It is generally accepted that most newborn babies sleep a lot; however, preemies’ sleeping patterns may differ from those of other babies as they tend to spend most of their sleeping in the light sleeping stages. However, there is no need for concern, as your preemie’s sleeping pattern will also change once it has matured.
• Communicating: Any new parent with a new baby learns how to communicate with their newborn. With a preemie baby, your doctor may have specific instructions with regards to monitoring your preemie’s color, motor skills and cries.
Visits to the Doctor
As a preemie parent you might be wondering how often you need to be visiting your pediatrician. Your doctor will instruct you on how often they will be monitoring your baby’s development after they have been released from the hospital. If your doctor is concerned, they may refer you to a developmental specialist to prevent any long-term damage. The key to ensuring that your preemie receives the proper and timely attention is working closely with doctors and specialists to keep track of all aspects of development.