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Do Premature Babies Hit Their Milestones Later?

Babies develop at their own rate, but if your baby was born premature - within 37 weeks of conception, they may develop at a speed different than their peers. Most preemies catch up by age 2.
Babies develop at their own rate, but if your baby was born premature – within 37 weeks of conception, they may develop at a speed different than their peers. Most preemies catch up by age 2.

All babies grow and develop at their own rate. But if your baby was born premature — within 37 weeks of conception — they might hit their developmental milestones at a speed different from their full-term peers. And, that’s completely fine.

By the age of 2, most preemies catch up with their full-term peers and are on track developmentally.

What is a corrected age?

To adjust your baby's age, count how many weeks early your baby was born and subtract that from their actual age. This is their corrected age. 

For example, if your baby was born 32 weeks after conception, they were 8 weeks early. Subtract 8 weeks from their actual age to figure out their corrected age for developmental milestones. In this case, at 16 weeks old, your baby would be at a corrected age of 8 weeks.

It's important to use your baby's corrected age when assessing their milestones so that you can accurately decide if they may need extra help. Even pediatricians always use the corrected age when discussing a premature baby's development.

Uses of developmental milestones

Developmental milestones are just a guide, and here are a few positive ways you can use them in.

Keeping Your Baby Safe 

By knowing what your baby may soon be able to do, you can stay ahead of them as far as childproofing goes.

You can also make sure you're not expecting them to do more than they're capable of — like leaving them in an unsupported sitting position too early.

Encouraging Your Baby's Development 

You can see where your baby is developmentally and what milestones will be coming up. By providing appropriate play or activities, you can encourage specific milestones — like providing lots of safe tummy time for a baby who will soon be rolling over.

Noticing When There May Be an Issue 

If your baby isn't hitting developmental milestones — even with their corrected age — you can talk to your pediatrician about it. Babies vary widely in their development, but if there’s a problem, early intervention is always the best. 

Do premature babies have developmental delays?

Preemies are more likely to have developmental delays than babies born full-term. If your baby was born more than a few weeks early, they are more at-risk for developmental delays even when adjusting for their corrected age. For most premature babies, these developmental differences aren't serious and will eventually resolve. Babies who are very premature are more likely to experience significant developmental delays.

Babies born between 34 and 37 weeks of conception — called late preterm — usually catch up by the time they're 2 years old, but there’s some concern about reading and math skills in preschool and kindergarten.

A study on 6,000 children found that  compared with children born at full-term, children born at late preterm were more likely to have learning disabilities in preschool and kindergarten — even if they were caught up developmentally by the age of 2 years.

What you can do to help

Here are some of the many things you can do at home to provide a nurturing environment and help your baby reach their milestones.

At 0 to 6 Months 

At this age, touching and cuddling your baby will help their development. Try giving your baby a gentle massage. Sing to your baby when you change their diaper. Talk to your baby about what you're doing.

You can also give your baby plenty of tummy time to encourage them to reach for things and roll over.

At 6 to 12 Months 

Your baby is probably very interested in food at this age. Though it can be messy, let your baby play with and explore their food. It will help your baby adapt to new experiences.

Encourage your baby to try different tastes and textures. They learn a lot through the sensory experiences related to eating.   

At 12 to 18 Months 

When your baby starts walking, they'll continue to use their senses to explore their environment. Encourage your baby to use their sense of smell by letting them stop to smell flowers when you walk with them or herbs and spices when you cook dinner. 

At 18 to 24 Months 

Talk to your baby about everything that's going on around them. Point out animals and other things you think they'll be interested in.

This is a great age to start describing things, such as the red flower or the round pancake. Even if your baby isn't saying much back, encourage their babbling responses.   

This is also the time to encourage your baby's imaginative play. Let your baby play alongside you while you work. If you're making dinner, give your baby some utensils and an empty bowl to play with. Don't forget to let your baby help out with mixing the muffin batter.  

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