Studies show that there are differences between preemies and their full-term peers and birth and beyond, but you don’t really need to dive deep into the research to know that. Every parent of a preemie knows that preemies march to the beat of their own drums, in and out of the NICU.
These differences are pretty obvious from the beginning, even in later-term preemies. Babies born prematurely commonly have:
- Less muscle tone
- Low birth weights
- Poorer reflexes
- Poorer stress response
- Breathing difficulties
- Feeding difficulties
- Shorter periods of alertness
- Greater difficulty tracking objects and people
- Thinner skin
- Digestion issues
- Problems regulating temperature
Some babies, especially those born very early, will also have physical issues that make them seem very different from other newborns. For instance, many still have fused eyelids, ears that lack cartilage (so fold easily), and no obvious nipples. Their skin can be red and raw and tear like wet paper. Inside, their hearts and blood vessels and intestines may be prone to problems.
The big overarching goal of NICU care is to help preemies grow strong enough so they can make the transition home. But a parallel goal is giving these babies the tools they need to catch up to their full-term counterparts in as many areas as possible, which is why hospitals employ feeding specialists and occupational therapists. Here are some of the issues that tend to stick around: