The Premature Baby

Some babies just can't wait to make their appearance in the world and are born before they are full-term. Thanks to the miracles of modern medicine, a premature baby has a much better chance of success if than ever before.

In fact, a baby born at 24 weeks has a chance of surviving even though the child may not be bigger than the palm of your hand. The tiniest baby ever born weighed less than 300 grams!

According to the World Health Organization, a premature baby is defined as one who is born at least two weeks before their due date and weighs less than five pounds (or 2,500 grams). Newborn babies usually need to weigh at least between 4 and 5lbs before they can be released from the hospital.

Difference of Appearance

Depending on just how early a child is born, the appearance of a premature baby can differ radically from one born at full-term. One of the most obvious differences is the look of the skin.

Preterm babies often look wrinkled and scrawny while their skin is translucent allowing everyone to see their veins and arteries. All of this is caused by a lack of body fat, which doesn't begin to be deposited until somewhere between 30 and 32 weeks.

This lack of body fat makes it difficult for preterm babies to keep warm. Additionally, their skin may have a reddish purple tint to it since natural skin pigmentation usually does not occur until about the eighth month of pregnancy.

Premature babies that are born closer to term may still be covered in lanugo, a fine, downy covering of hair that helps to keep the infants body warm. However, if they are born very early, they may not have any body hair at all. Babies that are born before 26 weeks may still have their eyes fused shut.

Babies born before 34 weeks will probably not have any nipples, although the areola (the darker area of skin surrounding the nipple) may be present. Premature babies also tend to be born with underdeveloped genitals. But, like everything else, they do eventually catch-up to normal development.

Because their muscular and nerve development isn't yet complete, premature babies often have little control over their body movements. This causes them to appear as though they are often shaking while those that are born very early may not move at all. Due to their lack of strength and energy, most premature babies spend very little time crying if they even cry at all.

The lungs are the last major organ to fully develop in babies. As a result, most premature babies have underdeveloped lungs causing them to have respiratory problems. However, as you baby grows bigger and their lungs develop, many of the problems should get better.

Risk Factors

A number of things can contribute to the likelihood of a woman delivering her baby prematurely. A woman who smokes, drinks alcohol and/or uses illegal drugs during pregnancy increases her chances of having a preterm baby.

Other risk factors include women who develop placental problems, like placenta previa; have uterine abnormalities; or have chronic health problems, like diabetes or kidney disease. However, proper prenatal care can help minimize the risk posed by these problems.

An unpreventable risk factor, though, is age. Women over the age of 35 are at an increased risk of having a premature baby. 

Additionally, babies who have abnormal chromosomes; are twins or multiples; or who developed an infection in the womb are more at risk of being born before term.

Preemie Problems

Babies who are born prematurely are more susceptible to developing earning problems, hearing problems, and eye problems. Premature babies are also at a greater risk of having attention deficit disorder as well as visual-spatial concept difficulties. Some premature babies may develop serious physical or mental handicaps as they grow older.

It can be emotionally challenging dealing with a premature baby. Chat with other parents who have children with special needs.

Find out how to care for a premature baby from other moms with babies of similar needs by going to our baby forum.