Parent Wellness

Understanding Preemie Babies & Corrected Age - Christy Farber

Hi, I’m Christy! And this is my story. 

In March of 2019, I was 27 weeks pregnant and surrounded by a tower of moving boxes, most of them marked “books”. I was anxiously awaiting a crew of friends to arrive at our basement apartment. Finally, the time had come to load everything up and move to our first real home. I had been looking forward to enjoying the final 13 weeks of my pregnancy settling into our new house and spending quality time with my toddler before his new baby brother was born. But wouldn’t you know it, we were about to face a different challenge. 

Four tiny hand-knit sweaters in premie size fan out against a yellow background.

I had been feeling funny for a week or so leading up to the move but I truly thought I was just exhausted and needed to get the move behind me. However, as the busy moving day went on I had a growing fear that something wasn’t right. I slowly and painfully climbed the stairs and informed my very surprised husband that we better head to the hospital –just to be safe. I fully expected the doctors to tell us that everything was fine and send us back home. With that reassurance, I would sleep soundly in our new house knowing everything was alright. Instead, the doctors quickly confirmed I was in premature labor and that our son could be born that night. 

With the help of medication and bed rest, our son arrived two weeks later at 28 weeks and 6 days. He was remarkably active, pink and healthy looking. I was incredibly relieved. He weighed 3 lbs 5 oz which was big for his gestation. Our long 121 day NICU journey had begun. 

A tiny NICU preemie baby peers out from under a knit yellow hat while looking with curiosity at the camera.

It was then that I was exposed to the importance of corrected age vs. gestational age. As I held my tiny baby day after day, I began to notice how different a preterm baby was compared to a full term newborn. My baby was rarely awake for any length of time and didn’t look at my face in the way a newborn does. He was entirely focused on sleeping and growing. It wasn’t until he reached the time of his due date that I started to see those classic newborn sleep and wake patterns. It was only then that my baby began to gaze up into my face and connect with me. This experience really helped me understand the importance of corrected age. 

Premature babies have to still meet developmental milestones as they would in the womb. As a child continues to develop, it is very important to consider his adjusted age as he approaches various milestones. This will be true for many months or even years to come. 

Preemie baby sits up smiling at the camera.

What Is Adjusted/Corrected Age? 

Adjusted Age is a key concept for a parent of a premature baby and is simple to calculate. Start with your baby’s age in weeks from the date of their birth and subtract the number of weeks they were preterm. For example, when my son was 52 weeks (1 year) old, his corrected age would have been 44 weeks. This is very helpful to keep in mind as you watch your baby grow and develop. Don’t expect a child to hit milestones based on their birth date but by their corrected age. 

Premature babies develop at a different pace for many reasons and premature babies may not achieve milestones as quickly as full term babies, even when considering adjusted age. Milestones will be noted when you take your child for regular checkups with your pediatrician in the months and years following discharge from the NICU. Together you and your health care professional will see if your child needs extra support in their developmental process. You know your child best, so it is a good idea to take notes of anything you want to inform your pediatrician about. This will help you remember everything you want to discuss at the appointment. 

Father sits skin-to-skin with his preemie baby in a hospital gown.

Advocate For Your Child 

I feel like I don’t have to tell a parent who has gone through a NICU stay to look out for your child missing milestones. I know you’re watching them like a hawk. I encourage you to trust your intuition and advocate for your child if you notice anything of concern. Early intervention does wonders.

Educate Your Close Circle 

Friends and family in your close circle can be a wonderful support for you and your child. You can help them understand the concept of corrected/adjusted age. Explain that your child is expected to meet milestones based on their adjusted age and not their birth date. This will help put their minds at ease. Keep them informed of what you learn both from medical professionals and your own observation as your child develops. The more educated your close circle is the more supportive they can be for you. 

Your Child Is Unique 

Several friends of mine had babies right around the time that my son was born. I was tempted to compare my son’s progress and milestones to the children born full term around him. I knew this wasn’t fair but I found I had to consistently remind myself not to fall into the comparison trap. I encourage you as well to remember that life isn’t a race.

Premature infant lays wrapped in a hospital blanket smiling in their sleep peacefully.

Be Kind to Yourself 

The journey you are on as the parent of a premature baby is profound and life changing. I encourage you to give yourself grace, kindness and time as you process this journey with your baby. As time went by, I found it healing to look back at pictures of my son when he was in the hospital, to see how far he has come and how much he has grown. It has helped me to process our experience and be thankful for our present circumstances. 

Be Present To The Moment 

I encourage you to do your best to be present in the moment. This isn’t easy. In my experience as a NICU parent, we become trained to always look ahead. First, we can’t wait to be out of the hospital.Then we can’t wait until our baby isn’t so little so his immune system isn’t so delicate. Then we can’t wait until he can crawl and walk and talk. Instead, I encourage you to enjoy each milestone and the progress your child makes. One day you’ll look back and be so proud of how much your child has overcome.