A premature baby is considered any baby born before 37 weeks gestation. The causes of premature birth vary. Sometimes it's caused by a chronic medical problem of the mother such as heart disease, while other times maternal high blood pressure or infection are to blame. Structural problems of the uterus or cervix can also be to blame. In some cases, illegal drug use can cause prematurity in infants, explains Lucille Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford. Being premature can cause long-term physical and behavior problems for the preemie.
Premature newborns show a variety of physical and behavioral characteristics. In addition to the physical signs, like being small and thin with shiny or red skin, there can be a variety of behavioral characteristics as well. A baby that is premature often has a weak cry and poor muscle tone that results in being unable to move her arms and legs as quickly or strongly as her full-term counterparts.
By the time a premature infant reaches three years old, some behavioral characteristics sometimes start to show themselves. According to "Pediatrics," the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, preschoolers that started off as preemies may exhibit more behavioral problems than their full-term classmates. It seems that the more premature a baby was, the higher the risk of behavioral problems. For example, a baby born at 27 weeks gestation may show more behavioral problems than a preemie born at 34 weeks gestation. The reasons for these behavioral problems aren't certain, but one possibility is that premature babies are more likely to have had brain bleeds or brain lesions from delivery. Another possibility is that the long separation from his parents that an extensive NICU stay entails may interfere with parent/child bonding, leading to behavioral problems later on.
The range of behavioral difficulties a premature child can have vary. Common behavioral issues in preemies as they get older include hyperactivity and higher incidence of misbehavior more than other kids the same age. These children can also have problems relating to other kids the same age and might not make friends easily.
Behavioral issues in preemies can extend into the teen years in some cases. Preemiehelp states that teens who were born early tend to be more shy and have more neurotic tendencies. Some of these teens may also lie more and seem to have a harder time socializing. Teens that were premature are more likely to be introverted. On the plus side, teens that started out as preemies are less likely to engage in risk-taking behavior.