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Full Term Vs. Premature Infant Development

author image Lynn Hetzler
Lynn Hetzler has been a writer since 2000. She was editor in chief and head writer for the online publication Eye on Cameraware. She owns a computer store offering repair, websites, instruction, and more. Hetzler is a certified medical assistant with experience in oncology, laboratory testing and protocol writing.
Full Term Vs. Premature Infant Development
Premature babies are tiny with small birth weights Photo Credit: stockce/iStock/Getty Images

One in every eight babies is born prematurely, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Premature birth is the leading cause of death among newborns. Premature babies may have developmental problems or reach milestones later than full-term babies do. Birth weight and short gestational age seem to correlate with infant development, but each premature baby will develop at his own pace.

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Full Term Vs. Premature

A full-term baby is born after 40 weeks' gestation. A premature, or preterm, baby is born less than 37 weeks into his gestation. She will begin her life with an extensive stay in a neonatal intensive care unit, as contrasted with a full-term baby who is usually healthy enough to go home after a night or two in the maternity ward. Doctors discuss a premature baby in terms of his corrected age, based on several weeks of gestation rather than the date he was born. For example, if a baby was born at 28 weeks' gestation and is now 4 weeks old, his corrected age is 32 weeks. Developmentally, this baby is still two months premature. He may not reach the same milestones as a full-term baby of the same chronological age for another three months.

Digestive Development

Infants are usually unable to coordinate sucking and swallowing before 34 weeks' gestation. Preterm babies -- who cannot breathe, suck and swallow simultaneously -- require the insertion of a nasogastric feeding tube for nutritional support. Babies born before 35 weeks' gestation are more likely to have jaundice than full-term infants are. Jaundice causes yellow skin and eyes and may eventually result in brain damage due to the buildup of bilirubin in the baby’s bloodstream, a byproduct of blood-cell-breakdown processes occurring in the liver. Preterm babies are more apt to have anemia, a red blood cell deficiency.

Respiratory Development

A baby born before completing her 35th week of gestation is more likely to have breathing problems than a full-term child is. Babies with severe respiratory developmental issues need assistance breathing due to underdeveloped lungs. A preterm baby may have trouble regulating his body temperature -- a developmental challenge full-term babies do not face.

Motor Skills

Your premature child’s motor skills, like holding her head up or crawling, may come slower than they would to a full-term child. A premature baby tends to hold her arms and legs straight, contrasted with a full-term baby who keeps his arms and legs flexed. West Penn Alleghany Women’s and Infants’ Services states a preterm baby has a difficult time flexing her underdeveloped muscles because she did not spend sufficient time tightly folded inside her mother.

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