As your premature (preemie) infant develops, there are several keys to keep in mind. You must understand your preemie’s developmental age, keep track of his or her developmental progression and recognize the value of strengthening postural control muscles.
Premature Infants and Developmental Age
It is important to consider preemie development in terms of their developmental age rather than chronological age. If your child is 6 months old but was 2 months early, expect him or her to be at a developmental age of a 4 month old. Essentially, the developmental age is how old your baby is from his due date. The development of a premature infant should generally progress in the same manner of a full-term baby:
- First learning to hold their head up;
- Then sit up;
- and then Walk.
Please remember all babies, including preemies, develop at different rates. The important thing is that they are consistently progressing in their development
Risk of Delayed Development
No matter how early, all premature infants are at some risk for delayed development due to weakness in their postural control muscles. Postural control muscles are muscles in the neck and trunk which stabilize the trunk for coordinated movement of the legs, arms, hands, and even the jaw and mouth. A weakness in these muscles may or may not be evident during the first year. Significant weakness can cause abnormal movement patterns such as tilting the head back, arching the spine, shrugging the shoulders and/or squeezing the knees together during movement as well as a delay in motor development.
Children with milder weakness may appear normal at 12 months but by 3, 4, or even 5, have difficulty with higher level gross motor skills (standing on 1 leg, hopping, skipping, riding a bike, etc) or with fine motor skills (hand/eye coordination, writing, catching a ball, etc).
The Importance of an Exercise Program
In order to prevent or minimize these problems, it is important that preemies be involved in an exercise program that works to strengthen and stabilize the head and neck, shoulder girdle, abdominals and hips. The best time to strengthen these muscles is during the first year as the baby is developing his or her lower level gross motor skills.
The Baby Builders video and book contain exercises that work to strengthen these postural control muscles, improving balance and coordination. The Baby Builders book contains additional information for working with premature infants including understanding and identifying stress signs, and calming techniques.
Please Contact Strong Start for more details at (202) 727-3665.