What Will My Premature Baby Look Like?
If you are currently facing the fact that you will likely give birth to your child before the estimated due date, whether by a little or a lot, you probably have a lot of questions. Is my baby going to be okay? Will my baby grow up healthy? What is my preterm baby going to look like? Babies do a lot of developing in those last weeks before their estimated due date, so if they’re born early they have to finish maturing outside of the womb. Let’s talk about what your preterm baby may look like at different stages of development.
Early Full Term
A full term pregnancy is considered to be 37 weeks’ gestation or more. A 37 week baby is called early full term, while a 41 week baby is called late full term. If your baby is born around 36-37 weeks, they will look much like any full term infant. They may weigh between 5 and 7 pounds and have a fine hair on their body, called lanugo. These babies can usually do fine on their own without any medical intervention.
If your baby arrives closer to the 35 week mark, they are considered late preterm and may weigh about five pounds. They look similar to full term babies, but do not have as much body fat yet. They may or may not require a short NICU stay to assist with breathing and gain strength to feed well.
31-34 week babies are considered moderately preterm, weighing around three to four pounds. These babies require a NICU stay as they develop the reflexes needed to breathe and drink milk by themselves. Their bodies are small, but fully formed and can be stroked and held by their parents. You will get to see them plump up, learn new skills, and begin to maintain their body temperature outside of the incubator.
Babies who are born between 27 and 30 weeks’ gestation are considered very premature. While they require extended medical support in the NICU to help them develop, very premature babies have a 95%+ survival rate. These babies are very small – two to three pounds – and you may see their eyes start to open soon. Very premature babies are often in incubators but parents may touch and hold them if their condition is fairly stable.
Technology to help preterm infants has evolved so greatly in our time, that a micropreemie born between 23 and 26 weeks has a good chance at survival. These tiniest little warriors are only about one pound, and eight inches long. They have not yet developed body fat and will be covered in fine hair. Their eyelids are still fused closed, and their little feet don’t even have creases yet! These babies will be in incubators with constant care and monitoring. Their eyes will be covered, as when they begin to open their retinas aren’t fully developed enough to handle lights and images. Their skin will be red and nearly translucent, and their fingernails and toenails will have just started developing. At this point, they are so fragile that they cannot yet be held and fed at the breast or bottle.
Giving birth earlier than expected and spending time in the NICU can be a very stressful and even traumatic time for parents. However, knowledge is power and cutting down on the unknowns can help you navigate this situation a little easier. However your journey unfolds, know that you are the most wonderful parent to your baby, and we are here to support you as needed.
Looking to learn more about premature babies and how preterm birth affects families? The March of Dimes is a great resource.