Every year around eight per cent of all babies in Australia are born prematurely. Great thing is that almost all of them grow up to be healthy children.
However, you can’t help but worry about your baby’s health, development and long-term future. You want the best for your child but being born prematurely, he/she might have acquired some disadvantages that could jeopardize his/her future. That’s why here in this article we’ll address the most important concerns. This way, you could best care for your baby and help your child “catch up” and learn, play and enjoy just like most children despite being born prematurely.
What caused your child being born too early? You might be feeling some guilt right now because of what happened. After all, your child doesn’t deserve getting an early disadvantage this early. It’s not his/her fault and there’s no other way but to blame yourself.
However, the causes of premature birth and labour are not yet fully understood. Prediction and prevention are difficult even if you followed the doctor’s advice to the letter. Even if you’re perfectly healthy, premature labour can still happen. Although there are maternal risk factors (e.g. high blood pressure, diabetes), avoiding and controlling all those risk factors doesn’t guarantee your child being born at the normal time (~37 to 40 weeks). Things often happen outside our control and there are too many variables at play here.
What can you do then? Premature birth and labour is outside of your control so it’s just good to focus on what you can do to ensure your child will grow to be healthy. Yes, there could be complications (e.g. lung disease, feeding difficulties, jaundice, slowing down of the heart rate). There are also concerns about your baby’s physical and cognitive development (which then in turn might affect his/her social and emotional development). Good thing is that with proper care your child can still achieve his/her potential and grow up just like most children with a bright future.
As parents, we don’t want our children being left behind. It’s especially the case about language development because it’s the most noticeable. After all, language delay can affect our babies’ learning and social and emotional development.
Developmental delays are actually normal because babies develop in their own paces. In addition, we have to consider the child’s corrected age. If your child was born prematurely and too early, this might just mean that he/she spent less time inside the womb and more time outside. For example, if your child is already one year old but he/she was born two months early, his/her corrected age would just be around 10 months. Language delay is to be expected in this case (physical development and growth delays are also possible).
For the next few years your child might appear shorter and lighter than most other children his/her age. This is also to be expected if we consider a premature baby’s corrected age. Also, it’s normal for children to have different heights even if they’re of the same age (your baby being born prematurely might have nothing do at all with his/her height compared to peers). If you’re worried about your child remaining shorter and lighter than other kids, rest assured that your child will likely catch up perhaps beyond 12 years old or much earlier (given the proper diet, care and nutrition).
What about your child’s learning and mental development? Kids learn at their own paces and if you notice some delay in your child, he/she will catch up sooner or later. In the near future your child can still do well in school. Majority of premature babies still undergo normal thinking and learning development which is good news.
However, your child’s learning pace can be greatly affected by vision and/or hearing impairment. Premature babies are more likely to develop visual problems (being short-sighted or far-sighted, problems with depth perception, squint, contrast sensitivity). Hearing impairments also get more likely although severe problems only affect a small percentage of premature babies. These sensory impairments can affect your child’s language and communication skills. It’s important to consult a doctor or paediatrician on what are the best ways to deal with this.
What about your child’s social and emotional development? The potential issues mentioned above can affect your child’s behaviour and attitude. For instance, your child’s confidence might be affected because he/she appears shorter than most other children. He/she might also find it hard to interact properly with you and other people because of a hearing problem. Your baby’s social and emotional development can also be affected by his/her crying and sleeping patterns. They could get cranky and irritated at times which is pretty normal to all babies. With proper care and attention, your baby will eventually learn how to communicate and interact with others.
Premature babies are seen to be more vulnerable because of that “lack of development” inside the womb. Good thing is that they can still catch up, grow up healthy and do well in school and beyond. Most problems might not have anything to do with being born prematurely. For serious concerns (visual and hearing impairment, lung disease and other health problems), your doctor or paediatrician can give you solid solutions and advice on how to deal with these.
It’s not your fault because the causes for premature birth are uncertain and not yet fully understood. What you can do today is to help your child catch up and still lead a normal (or more preferably an extraordinary) life.