A baby is considered premature if it is born within 37 weeks of gestation. Prematurity was earlier one of the most common causes of infant mortality, but the evolution of medical treatment has contributed to a higher number of babies surviving.
Some characteristics of a premature baby:
- Low weight at birth
- Small size
- Head and hands are relatively bigger than other body parts
- Smooth and thin skin
- Visible veins under the skin
- Irregular breathing
- Difficulties in feeding
- Feeble and irregular crying
Motor and mental deficits are three times more frequent in male babies, and usually they will present difficulties:
- In the development of language skills
- In visual-motor integration
- Attention and memory
At school going age, such children frequently present behaviour and learning disabilities (this is generally due to the few demands made of these children by their families and school). So it is important that their minds are stimulated.
Premature babies generally have lower than average IQs. However, 80 per cent of prematurely born children don’t reveal lower IQ levels. When they have lower IQ, it
is usually associated with other factors (like cerebral haemorrhage), and not prematurity.
When it comes to language capabilities, at 12 months of age, eight per cent present a serious delay in developing language skills, at 24 months, 28 per cent present a deficiency in expressive language, and six per cent a deficiency in receptive language.
Prematurely born children with no other medical or neurological complications do not present any deficiencies in this aspect.
Like with any other cognitive function, family relations seem to modify and frequently change the severity of cognitive defects.
With reference to attention and memory, the childrens' response to lessons have been contradictory, and this varies from child to child.
Prematurity presents a high risk in a variety of disturbances in development, from more severe disturbances like cerebral palsy and intellectual deficiency, to a series of less severe dysfunctions in areas like expressive language and comprehension, visual motor abilities, attention, learning processes and memory.
The percentage of cases that present these complications may not be as high as expected, but it exists in sufficient numbers to justify a psychological and neuropsychological evaluation of all cases, with the need to introduce the necessary interventions to minimise the damage.