Progress in medical technology and the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) have made the survival of smaller and smaller infants possible. As a result, we now have a new kind of human being: The Preterm Infant.
Of course, preemies are in many ways small versions of the full term infant. But preemies also are very different from full term infants, and they live in a world that is very different from that of either the fetus in the womb or the full-term infant at home. Therefore, it is unfair to think of the preemie as either a fetus or a mini full-term baby: preemies are unique, and deserve unique and special treatment.
The preemie of 24 weeks gestational age would normally expect about 16 more weeks in the womb, where:
- oxygen and food are provided by the placenta, thus there is no need to breathe or digest.
- temperature is comfortable and stable.
- there is protection from injury.
- the effects of gravity are not felt, and the baby moves easily and stays comfortably curled-up (flexed).
- there is constant motion, thus the baby is rocked gently much of the time.
- the baby feels the rhythms of the mother’s changing day-night activity.
- the baby’s nervous system does not have to respond to lots of different kinds of things (sights, sounds, touches).
- there are no intense lights, sounds and touches, although the baby does hear his/her mother’s rhythmic heart and bowel sounds, can hear speech, and feels gentle touch from his/her own limbs and the fluid and sides of the womb.
Understanding Preemie Development
To learn about what infants do, it is helpful to think about five areas of development.
How to Help Preemies Develop Well
There are many things that you can do to help your baby progress.
Giving “Developmental Care”
A major goal of developmental care is to protect the preemie’s brain and central nervous system.
The Physical Environment
Learn how your baby’s environment is changed to minimize stress.
The Social Environment
Discover how to interact with your baby, and learn about kangaroo care.
Understanding Your Preemie as a Person
Your baby is unique even when small.