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Preemie Development

Mother with Baby To learn about what infants do, it is helpful to think about five areas of development. These areas are parts of the whole system, the whole baby. These areas of development are controlled by the brain and develop in cooperation with each other.

The five areas of development are:

  • Physiological - things that happen automatically, such as breathing, heart rate, color changes, digestion, bowel movements.
  • Motor - posture, movements, muscle tone.
  • States of consciousness - levels of sleep and being awake, and changes from one to the other.
  • Attention - the ability to focus on a message, such as turning to sounds and looking at faces and other objects. This leads eventually to being able to respond socially and to interact with people.
  • Self-regulation - the ability to keep the other areas in balance, for example, the ability to calm down (reduce motor activity and change from a state of crying to being quietly awake) when upset, by tucking limbs close to body, bracing self against side of crib or sucking on hands.

Because the nervous systems (brains) of preemies are not as mature as those of full-term babies, development in these five areas is not as far along as in a full-term baby. For example, you may find your preemie has:

  • Immature physiologic development, as seen when:
    • The baby changes color often
    • Breathing or heart rate is uneven
    • The baby gags easily
  • Immature motor development, as seen when the baby:
    • Twitches, is tense or stiff, trembles
    • Is limp
    • Can’t stay curled up
  • Immature control over states of consciousness, as seen when the baby:
    • Can’t become alert, or stay alert for long
    • Is generally fussy
  • Immature development of attention, as seen when the baby:
    • Can’t focus on you
    • Becomes worn out trying to respond to you

Remember, your baby is an individual - try different soothers and look for signs of comfort to find what works.

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