What will my premature baby look like?

Every expectant mother wonders and dreams about what their new baby will look like when they are born. Will your baby look like her Dad or you or will she have great Aunt Rosie’s high forehead! The birth of your premature baby is no different in terms of expectations and dreams but because your baby has arrived ahead of schedule, they will appear a little different physically depending on how many weeks of pregnancy have been completed.

Your baby will be smaller and thinner than a baby who has been delivered at full term because he/she has less body fat and muscle bulk to plump them out.

Watching your baby transform before your eyes over the weeks from birth to due date is a very unique and memorable experience as you witness your baby transition through the various stages of growth that normally take place in your womb.

I remember watching my daughters eyelids open for the first time when she was 2 weeks old, a process that took 8 hours from the first signs of her fused eyelids opening to being able to see both her eyes fully open. Having missed out on many of the usual joyous moments that one associates with the birth of a baby because of her early arrival, being the first people our daughter saw as she opened her eyes to the world was a very special moment for us: one we will treasure for the rest of our lives.

Skin

  • 24 Weeks: your baby’s skin is fragile, red, wrinkled and translucent (see through). The soles of your baby’s feet are smooth and your baby requires humidity to prevent water loss through the skin which can lead to temperature instability, dehydration, heat and calorie loss
  • 31 Weeks: your baby’s skin appears thicker and no longer requires humidity.
  • 31-36 Weeks: creases appear on the soles of your baby’s feet
  • Full term: creases on soles of your baby’s feet are fully formed. If your baby is overdue the skin may appear dry and scaly

Mouth

  • 24 Weeks: your baby’s tooth buds are visible in the gums

Fingernails & Toenails

  • 26 Weeks: your baby’s fingernails and toenails are visible
  • 28 Weeks: your baby’s fingernails and toenails are well formed
  • 29-32 Weeks: your baby’s fingernails reach tips of his/her fingers
  • 36-40 Weeks: your baby’s toenails reach the tips of his/her toes

Eyes

  • 24 Weeks: your baby’s eyelids are thin and may still be fused (closed). His/her eyebrows are visible
  • 26 Weeks: your baby opens and closes his/her eyes. Their eyes may often be half open. Your baby’s eyelids are still thin, their pupils do not constrict (reduce in size) and a few eyelashes are visible
  • 32 Weeks: The pupils of your baby’s eyes begin to constrict in light. Their eyebrows and eyelashes are more visible
  • 34-26 Weeks: Your baby’s eyelids thicken and pupil constriction in light becomes consistent

Your baby’s tears do not usually appear until several months after the due date.

Ears

  • 24 Weeks: Your baby’s ears look flat
  • 32 Weeks: Your baby’s ears look fleshier and springy, but still tend to be flat

Hair

Your baby may be covered in fine downy hair that disappears as he/she reaches your due date: last to go on the upper arms and shoulders. Scalp hair is mostly found on the back of your baby’s head.

Genitals

  • 24 Weeks: Your baby boy’s testes are not visible. Your baby girl’s clitoris may look prominent
  • 26-27 Weeks: Your baby’s nipples begin to show
  • 28 Weeks: Your baby’s testes may be visible under the skin in groin area. Baby girls’ labia appear flat and splayed and the nipples appear flat and pale
  • 32 Weeks: Your baby girl’s genitals are filling out and look more normal
  • 34-39 Weeks: Your baby boy’s testes descend into scrotum

Heartbeat

  • 24-30 Weeks: Your baby’s heartbeat is normally fast eg. 140-170 beats per minute
  • 34 Weeks: Your baby’s heartbeat is 110-155 beats per minute
  • Full term: Your baby’s heartbeat is 90-130 beats per minute

Your baby’s heartbeat will exceed these rates when they are stressed, unwell, too warm or with some medications.

Breathing

Breathing is a big challenge for many premature baby’s.  At first you may notice that your baby breathes quickly and irregularly with pauses: they may take big breaths or little shallow breaths.  Variability is normal. Gradually, as your baby gets stronger and more mature, they will breathe more easily and steadily. This will depend on their medical condition; not just on their age.

Sleep

  • 24 Weeks: Baby’s born at 24 weeks do not have true sleep states. Their sleep is referred to as indeterminate sleep
  • 28 Weeks: You will be able to see little eye movements (REM) during periods of light, active sleep
  • 30-32 Weeks: Your baby will have obvious periods of quiet, deep sleep with slower breathing and little activity
  • 34-36 Weeks: Your baby will begin to demonstrate cycles of active sleep, quiet sleep and waking
  • 38 Weeks: 40% of your baby’s sleep is quiet sleep and 60% is active sleep.
  • Full term: Your baby’s sleep is 50% active and 50% quiet sleep, in cycles that begin with active sleep

If you would like more information on premature baby’s please visit The Irish Neonatal Health Alliance  – www.inha.ie.