All babies develop at their own rate. But there is a special way to determine if premature babies are developing as they should.
Babies who are born prematurely have two ages: chronological and adjusted. Chronological age is the age of your baby from the day of his birth—the number of days, weeks or years old that your baby has been in the outside world. Adjusted age is the developmental age of your baby based on his due date (when he would have been born).
To calculate adjusted age, take your premature baby’s chronological age and subtract the number of weeks your baby was premature. For example, a baby who has a chronological age of 10 weeks but was born 4 weeks early has an adjusted age of 6 weeks. (10 – 4 = 6)
Why is this important?
Since so much of a baby’s growth and development takes place during pregnancy, babies who are born prematurely miss out on valuable developmental time. As a result, they may lag behind other babies who share their actual birthday. Health care providers may use your baby’s adjusted age when they evaluate your baby’s growth and development.
An infant who is 12 months old but was born 2 months early (and consequently has an adjusted age of 10 months) should not be compared to other 12 month old babies. Instead, he should be compared to other 10 month old babies. Then, his growth and development will seem more in line with typical developmental milestones.
As your child grows, it may become awkward to constantly have two ages. Hopefully, as time passes, he will begin catching up to his chronologically same-aged peers. Some preemies catch up completely; others have delays or developmental issues that last for years. No two children are exactly alike. But, if you understand that your preemie should be evaluated based on his adjusted age (especially in the early months/years of his life), then it becomes easier to determine if he is delayed and if he is making timely progress.
Get help early
If your child is not meeting his developmental milestones or is at risk of having a delay, specialists may be needed to help optimize your baby’s progress. Just as a person may need physical therapy to improve movement after an injury, a toddler who was born prematurely may need physical therapy to help him learn to move or walk. Many preemies have vision or hearing problems which may cause speech difficulties; the help of a speech therapist can make all the difference in helping him learn to talk.
Fortunately, in the United States, the Early Intervention program is there to help babies and toddlers who are experiencing developmental delays. Read this blog series to learn how to access this system and help your child get off on the right foot. If you suspect that your child is struggling or is delayed, it is best to get help as soon as possible – don’t delay with delays.
Note: This post is part of the weekly series Delays and disabilities – how to get help for your child. It was started in January 2013 and appears every Wednesday. While on News Moms Need and click on “Help for your child” in the Categories menu on the right side to view all of the blog posts to date (just keep scrolling down). We welcome your comments and input. If you have questions, please send them to AskUs@marchofdimes.com.