Evading developmental delays in your premature baby
It’s an exciting part of raising a child to watch your baby reach important milestones, such as clapping, crawling, and walking. But as a parent, there’s always that worry in the back of your mind: What if something is wrong with my premature baby? Not only are the obvious physical milestones tracked by your baby’s pediatrician, he/she will be asking questions about social and behavioral development. It’s true that each child achieves developmental milestones at different times, but there is a range of normal that, if not achieved, is a clue to possible developmental delays.
Well-child visits can ensure your premature baby is on the right track
Ever wonder why your child’s pediatrician recommends well-child visits as often as they do? With a seemingly healthy child, it can sometimes feel like a little much. Frequent check-ups are used to perform developmental screenings. According to a study by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 1 in 4 children between 0-5 years of age are at risk for social, behavioral, or developmental delays. That number is higher for premature babies. Consistent screenings early in life ensure your baby is making progress in important language, social, behavioral, and physical skills. With these regular screenings, developmental delays can be minimized and additional problems averted.
A premature baby reaches milestones differently
There is an allowance made for a premature baby when it comes to developmental milestones. If your premature baby is 12 weeks old but was born 4 weeks early, it’s unfair to expect her to be doing the same things other 12-week-old babies are doing. Physicians use an ‘adjusted age’ for premature baby development. Subtract the number of weeks early (4 weeks) by baby’s age (12 weeks) to get the adjusted age. In this example, your child should be hitting 8-week-old developmental milestones.
Research has found that the closer to term a pregnancy comes, the less chance that baby will have developmental delays as he/she grows. Any preterm baby is at a higher risk for problems. Early signs to watch for include difficulty forming relationships, avoiding eye contact, excessive crying, and inattentiveness.
You know your child best – Act fast!
As her parent or legal guardian, you know your child best and are the most important teacher she will ever have. At home with family is the first place your baby will learn about her world. Observe your child while she plays, speaks, acts, and learns. Oftentimes, parents don’t notice a developmental delay with their child until watching her play with children her own age. If you have any concerns about the progress of your baby, ask her pediatrician immediately. The pediatrician might give you a referral for your child to be evaluated by a specialist, such as a child psychologist, neurologist, or therapist. The key is to get help as soon as possible so your baby can reach her full potential.
Part of your job as a parent is to help your baby develop and grow in the best way possible, whether physically, mentally, or socially. While it’s true premature babies are at higher risk for developmental delays, all children should be screened often for optimum health.
Have more questions about caring for your preemie? Visit our preemie section here.