Overview of Preemies and Preemie Care

What Having a Preemie Means for You and Your Premature Baby

Premature Baby in NICU sleeps in his Isolette
Jill Lehmann Photography / Getty Images

Preemie is another word for a premature baby. Babies who are born before 37 weeks gestation are considered premature. A normal pregnancy lasts for about 40 weeks, but babies born much earlier than 40 weeks can live and thrive with current technology and medical advances in treatment.

Types of Preemies

There are three types of premature babies, they include the following:

  • Late Preterm: babies born between 34-37 weeks of their projected due date
  • Very Preterm: born at less than 32 weeks of their projected due date of pregnancy
  • Extremely Preterm: born at less than 28 weeks of their projected due date pregnancy

Babies born prior to 29 weeks are referred to as Micro Preemies. They weigh under 1-pound and are at the highest risk for complications from their premature birth.

Causes of Premature Birth

There are many risk factors that increase a mom's chance of having a preemie, including:

  • Previous preterm birth
  • Multiple pregnancies (twins or more)
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking cigarettes

Health Problems of Preemies

Although many preemies are very healthy, others have health problems that may be severe. Unless there are severe health complications, longer pregnancies mean healthier babies. Some of the health problems that preemies may face include:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Bleeding into the brain (IVH)
  • Heart trouble(PDA, bradycardia)
  • Severe jaundice
  • Eye problems (ROP)

The Psychological Toll of Having a Preemie

Having a preemie is a medical emergency, but it is also a psychological one for the parents. It can be very hard to cope with having a preemie. Learning as much as you can about your preemie and talking to other parents of preemies can help you, and your family members adjust to life with a preemie. With special handling, careful observation, and love, your preemie will be on his way to catching up growth-wise which so many preemies do by the age of 2.

Simple Things Count for Preemies

Just as it is with babies born at term, what helps preemies thrive the most are touch, talk, and breastmilk. These are the simple things that count. Studies show preemies who are talked to and touched more fare better than those that don't. The same goes for breastfed preemies versus those who went on formula.

Preemies Are Fighters

Despite incredible odds, many preemies live normal lives after their initial tenuous birth and hospital stay. Don't allow the harsh reality of your baby having to be hospitalized at birth to cast a shadow over his abilities afterward. Many studies show that preemies have a higher level of resilience and grit than other children. They literally came to the world fighting for every breath, touch, and hug, so know that your preemie may look to be more independent and self-sufficient than you think.

7 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Quinn JA, Munoz FM, Gonik B, et al. Preterm birth: Case definition & guidelines for data collection, analysis, and presentation of immunisation safety dataVaccine. 2016;34(49):6047–6056. doi:10.1016/j.vaccine.2016.03.045

  2. Lawn JE, Davidge R, Paul VK, et al. Born too soon: care for the preterm babyReprod Health. 2013;10 Suppl 1(Suppl 1):S5. doi:10.1186/1742-4755-10-S1-S5

  3. Kurdi AM, Mesleh RA, Al-hakeem MM, Khashoggi TY, Khalifa HM. Multiple pregnancy and preterm labor. Saudi Med J. 2004;25(5):632-7. PMID: 15138532

  4. Eisenhut M, Choudhury S. In Premature Newborns Intraventricular Hemorrhage Causes Cerebral Vasospasm and Associated Neurodisability via Heme-Induced Inflammasome-Mediated Interleukin-1 Production and Nitric Oxide DepletionFront Neurol. 2017;8:423. doi:10.3389/fneur.2017.00423

  5. Sullivan MC, McGrath MM, Hawes K, Lester BM. Growth trajectories of preterm infants: birth to 12 yearsJ Pediatr Health Care. 2008;22(2):83–93. doi:10.1016/j.pedhc.2007.02.008

  6. Kritzinger A, van Rooyen E. The effect of formal, neonatal communication-intervention training on mothers in kangaroo careAfr J Prim Health Care Fam Med. 2014;6(1):E1–E9. doi:10.4102/phcfm.v6i1.675

  7. Traub F, Boynton-jarrett R. Modifiable Resilience Factors to Childhood Adversity for Clinical Pediatric Practice. Pediatrics. 2017;139(5). doi:10.1542/peds.2016-2569

By Cheryl Bird, RN, BSN
Cheryl Bird, RN, BSN, is a registered nurse in a tertiary level neonatal intensive care unit at Mary Washington Hospital in Fredericksburg, Virginia.