One in every nine babies born in the United States is born prematurely -- that is, before 37 weeks gestation -- according to the March of Dimes. When it's your little one who is born before her time, you might be concerned as to how a lack of development in utero affects her development after birth. The good news is that your little preemie can live a happy, healthy, normal life. Still, you'll want to keep track of her developmental milestones and discuss her growth with your pediatrician to quickly identify any potential problems.
Acquaint yourself with the various milestones that you can expect by talking with your baby's pediatrician or reading about them. You should have a general idea of the various developmental milestones to look for in the first year, including things like sitting independently, self-feeding, crawling and eventually, walking. While development is different for each baby, your pediatrician should be able to give you a general idea of when to expect each milestone.
Track your preemie's development using her "adjusted age." The adjusted age is the age she'd be if she were born at full-term (40 weeks). Pediatricians use an adjusted age to account for some of the developmental delays that a premature baby can face. For instance, if your little one was born at 34 weeks, you'd subtract six weeks from her age or use your due date as her adjusted birth date. This determines the range of normal for preemie development.
Chart or record your preemie's progress in a journal, blog or chart. Having a record of each milestone can help you more accurately discuss your preemie's development with your pediatrician. Of course, it's also nice to have those memories saved for a baby book as well. Keep track of her real age, adjusted age, the milestone reached and the date to track her development.
Focus on steady development, rather than the exact dates and ages that your preemie should be reaching milestones and mastering new skills. It's common for premature babies to lag a little in development, which is why the adjusted age is often used for the first one to two years, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. However, as long as development is steady and ongoing, you shouldn't have to worry.
Watch for illnesses that could disrupt your preemie's progress. Because of undeveloped immune systems, preemies are more susceptible to respiratory illnesses and viruses, especially during the winter months. Try to minimize your baby's exposure to germs and talk to your pediatrician if you have any concerns. Be sure to follow your doctor's immunization schedule to protect your baby from dangerous illness and disease that could affect her development.
Avoid comparing your preemie to someone else's full-term baby. Babies develop differently, and it's impossible to gauge your little one's development based on another child. Instead, create a partnership with your pediatrician and track your baby's development with her guidance.