Preemie milestones – what to expect

Posted on Jun 10th, 2019

Will your preemie reach her milestones, such as walking and teething, at the same time as other children? By Kim Bell

Preemie milestones - and how to calculate your baby's adjusted age

Babies all develop at their own speed when it comes to reaching those important milestones, but for preemies, each achievement is a little more special, a little more to celebrate as your child moves further away from those scary early days and closer towards a healthy and strong future.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), considered to be one of the world’s authorities on childcare and development, shares that if your baby was born early, she has two important days. The day she was born is her official date of birth, but her estimated date of birth is equally as important, and it’s the difference between these two dates that provides you with her corrected or adjusted age.

This adjusted age will give you a better idea of developmental ages and stages in her first two years.

ALSO SEE: 10 things you didn’t know about your premature baby 

How to calculate your preemie’s adjusted age:

If your baby is 16 weeks old, but was born six weeks early, you need to subtract six from 16, which gives you an adjusted age of 10 weeks. It’s, therefore, reasonable for her to achieve milestones suitable for a baby of 10 weeks (or two and half months), rather than 16 weeks (or four months). It’s important to make sure she continuously moves forward in her development and progresses, such as moving from rolling to sitting, to pulling herself up, to standing, etc.

If you’re concerned she’s not reaching her milestones in her adjusted capacity, speak to your paediatrician or caregiver, as your preemie may require additional therapeutic support.

Learning to walk

There are a number of factors to take into consideration, the experts say. This includes how prem your baby was, how long she was required to stay in NICU and what measures were taken at this time.

A prem baby, who had a limited and uneventful time in NICU, and has had no health problems linked to her premature birth, should learn to walk according to the standard milestones at her adjusted age.

Full-term babies are usually able to stand up supported by a parent or a piece of furniture between the ages of six to nine months. (Remember that this will be the adjusted age, so a baby born six weeks early, will reach these milestones around seven months to 10 months old).

By the age of 12 months adjusted, she should be able to pull up on furniture into a standing position, and walk when supported by you.

By 18 months adjusted, she should be walking on her own with no support, and her heels flat. It’s important to make sure you take into consideration your baby’s adjusted or corrected age.

ALSO SEE: 7 facts about walking every first-time parent should know 

The challenges

The more prem your baby, the more severe her complications or the more invasive her treatment, can impact and delay her milestones. If your baby has experienced any of the following, she may be delayed in her walking:

  • Born earlier than 27 weeks
  • A birth weight of less than 750g
  • Chronic lung disease
  • Weak muscle tone
  • Frequent hospitalisations
  • Additional or significant home medical support.

Your premature baby and her teeth

The Academy of General Dentistry reports that 70% of prem babies will have a problem with their teeth, known as enamel hypoplasia. This means the baby teeth appear brownish, less smooth and appear to be softer and more prone to decay or chipping. Unfortunately, this is only picked up around six months of age when your baby’s first tooth erupts.

ALSO SEE: Everything you need to know about baby’s first teeth 

The Academy of General Dentistry recommends prem babies see a dentist when that first tooth comes through, to prevent further complications.

The experts also share that prem babies may have delays in both their baby teeth and even their permanent adult teeth coming through.

Baby teeth commonly erupt between six and 12 months of age, however, again it’s important to bear in mind that this is your baby’s adjusted, or corrected age, and not her real or birth age. Back teeth tend to come through anytime between 18 and 24 months.

Teeth and bones need calcium to form and strengthen, and your baby gets most of this calcium intake during the last trimester of pregnancy. Research reveals that this may be one of the reasons why teeth come through slower in preemies and why they are more prone to cavities. Research has also found that extended intubation and inadequate early nutrition are both contributing factors of delayed tooth eruption.

About Kim Bell

Kim Bell is a wife, mother of two teenagers and a lover of research and the way words flow and meld together. She has been in the media industry for over 20 years, and yet still learns more about life from her children everyday.