All parents are concerned about their children hitting certain milestones on time. But when your baby comes early, those first few months and years can be a time of watching and waiting. Because preemies face greater health risks, you may worry more about whether your child will do certain things on time.
Laurel Bear, MD, a pediatrician at the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, can ease your concerns. Premature babies have the same milestones as babies born on time -- if you adjust the typical timeline for their early birth, she says.
'Adjusted Age' Explained
Newborns who've spent less than 37 weeks in the womb are considered premature. A normal pregnancy lasts about 40 weeks.
To figure out what a child should be doing and when, it's important to look at their adjusted age (also known as the corrected age). That's based on Mom’s original due date, Bear says.
For example, when a baby is born 2 months premature, and is now 4 months old, "we’re not going to expect them to be doing what a 4-month-old is doing. We’re really looking at what a 2-month-old should be doing,” she says.
Most preemies do catch up to their peers who were born on time, but it’s important to be patient, Bear says. A baby who’s faced significant medical issues may need a little more time to reach her milestones.
“We look at them and say, ‘This little baby spent a long time trying to survive.’ What should this baby be doing? I give them a little bit of a break. You may be 6 months old, but you spent 2 months in the hospital.”
The earlier an infant arrives, the longer she may need to catch up -- but most do get there, Bear says. A baby born at 36 weeks may not be caught up at 6 months, but may be at within the normal range by 12 months. A baby born at 26 weeks or less may not catch up until they’re 2-and-a-half or 3 years old.