Psychological Development in Preterm Babies

Prematurely Born Babies

According to the World Health Organization, approximately 15 million babies are born prematurely across the globe each year (par, 1). Premature babies are those born before 37 complete weeks of gestation. They are classified into three categories i.e. extremely preterm, very preterm, and moderate to late preterm (World Health Organization par, 1). Extremely preterm babies are those born less than 28 weeks whereas very preterm are those born between 28 and 32 weeks and moderate to late preterm are born between 32 and 37 weeks (Gatta, p.1). As the number of prematurely born babies continues to increase across the globe, the survival of these babies is a major issue for public health professionals and mothers. The survival of prematurely born babies requires examining its contributing factors and developing measures to promote their health and wellbeing. This paper examines the similarities between prematurely born babies and how they affect their chances of survival and wellbeing.

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Background of the Issue

Preterm birth remains one of the major issues facing a number of families across the globe. Currently, it is estimated that 15 million babies are born prematurely across the globe (World Health Organization par, 1). This implies that more than 1 in 10 babies are born prematurely worldwide. On the other hand, most of the prematurely born babies who survive end up having a lifetime of complications or disabilities such as visual problems, hearing difficulties, and learning disabilities. Additionally, prematurity is considered one of the major causes of death in children aged 5 years or less. There is a significant difference in the rates of premature births between low-income, middle-income, and high-income countries. 50% of prematurely born babies in low-income countries die because of a lack of feasible, cost-effective care while nearly all prematurely born babies in high-income countries survive. In middle-income countries, more than 60% of prematurely born babies survive because of suboptimal use of technology in healthcare during the neonatal period. Prematurity continues to be a major problem across the globe despite the fact that it is preventable in most cases.

While various public health initiatives have been undertaken to help enhance the survival of prematurely born babies, minimal efforts have been directed towards understanding the similarities between these children. Most of the existing studies focus on the psychological effects of preterm birth on mothers and families. Preterm birth incorporates a combination of biological and environmental factors that in turn affect the development of these children and their long-term survival (Ionio et al., p.605). These factors are deemed as the causes of developmental disorders in prematurely born babies. Examining psychological factors affecting the development of preterm children is essential for enhancing their survival.

Psychological Development of Prematurely Born Babies

Gatta et al. note that preterm birth not only generates psychological distress in mothers and families but also affects the childs psychological development (p.1). As evident in existing literature, parents and families of such children experience great psychological distress relating to parenting. The psychological distress is brought by the great suffering that these children experience in relation to their health and wellbeing. The psychological distress is worsened by the lack of an effective social support system for parents and families. This in turn affects the adult-child interaction resulting in significant impacts on the childs psychological development and overall health and wellbeing.

Prematurely born babies tend to have challenges in their psychological development compared to children who are born after 37 complete weeks of gestation. The challenges in these childrens psychological development are attributable to factors relating to preterm birth. In essence, prematurity generates a series of health and wellbeing problems that end up affecting the growth and development of these children. Due to the health and wellbeing challenges of preterm birth, children born prematurely have challenges in realizing optimal psychological growth and development. The poor psychological development of these children is shown in their behavioral and emotional responses.

Medical advances are increasingly playing a critical role in enhancing the survival and the health/wellbeing of prematurely born babies. As more effort is undertaken to enhance their survival rates, focus shifts to the developmental outcomes of these children (Luu et al., p.2). Comparisons between preterm babies and those born at full term show a distinct pattern of behaviors, which indicates differences in their psychological development. Prematurely born babies have a preterm phenotype, which is brought by higher rates of cognitive, attentional, emotional, and behavioral difficulties that are evident across the lifespan. Prematurely born babies experience these difficulties because of decreased intrauterine development of the nervous system and complications brought by preterm birth.

Cognitive, emotional, and behavioral difficulties facing prematurely born babies are brought about by atypical early life experiences. These experiences are linked to variations in early brain development. There are structural differences in the early brain development of prematurely born babies. As a result of these differences, prematurely born babies face the need to catch up with those born at full term. Luu et al. conclude that early brain development after a premature birth has a unique trajectory compared to the brain development of children born at full term.

Development concerns are strongly linked to gestational age. As a result, extremely preterm babies face more developmental difficulties compared to very extreme and moderate to later preterm babies. The effects of moderate to late preterm birth are significantly weak and less compared to the effects of extremely preterm. Therefore, development difficulties worsen with the gestational age and continue throughout childhood development into adulthood. The effects of gestational age on developmental difficulties is evident in the fact that babies born extremely early are underdeveloped and fragile (Dance par, 4). For instance, these babies have delicate lungs and organs that lack the slippery substance. Consequently, they develop health complications that are evident throughout their lifespan across cognitive, emotional, and behavioral domains.

Are Prematurely Born Babies the Same?

As evident in this discussion, prematurely born babies are essentially the same in terms of their psychological development. While developmental concerns of these babies are strongly linked to gestational age, they all experience difficulties in psychological development as well as other aspects of their health and wellbeing. Regardless of the differences in the effects of gestational age on child development, prematurely born babies tend to exhibit similar developmental concerns across cognitive, behavioral, and emotional domains. These similarities in developmental concerns are primarily attributable to the early brain development of these babies and the fact that they are underdeveloped.

Children born prematurely have significantly lower full-scale and performance intelligence quotients regardless of the differences in gestational age (Luu et al., p.2). In comparison to children born at full term, preterm babies are twice as likely to have a sensory or neuromotor impairment. The impairment, which is likely to occur despite variations in gestational age, contributes to the poor psychological development of these babies compared to those born at full term. While children born moderate to late preterm have no significant differences with their peers born full term on verbal intelligence, they still experience psychological development problems due to sensory or neuromotor impairment. However, somedifferences in the psychological development of preterm birth are less clear and unnoticeable though they still experience poor psychological development.

Ionio et al. note that the risk of deficit and delays in preterm infants is well-established in existing literature. Due to biological and environmental factors that combine during preterm delivery, preterm babies have poorer developmental outcomes, especially cognitive and behavioral outcomes. Preterm delivery is considered a risk factor for developmental disorders among infants. Preterm delivery not only generates negative developmental outcomes but also moderates the risk of developmental problems in the later stages of life. Children born prematurely exhibit weak social, emotional, and relational skills as well as problems in self-regulation. Poor psychological developmental outcomes in preterm infants are shown in poor behavioral and emotional self-regulation, poor social/relational skills, reduced attention, and emotional problems. However, prematurely born males exhibit poorer psychological developmental outcomes in comparison to females (Peacock et al., 305).

In conclusion, premature birth remains a major public health issue worldwide as nearly 15 million babies are born prematurely each year. As medical advances seek to promote the long-term survival of these children, their developmental outcomes remain a major issue. Existing studies have examined the developmental outcomes of these children in relation to enhancing their survival rates. These infants have poorer psychological developmental outcomes because of the effects of gestational age on their brain development. While prematurely born males have poorer developmental outcomes, preterm infants are similar in terms of their psychological development.

Works Cited

Dance, Amber. Survival of the Littlest: The Long-Term Impacts of Being Born Extremely Early. Nature News, Nature Publishing Group, 2 June 2020,

Gatta, Michela, et al. A Psychological Perspective on Preterm Children: The Influence of Contextual Factors on Quality of Family Interactions. BioMed Research International, vol. 2017, 12 Oct. 2017, pp. 110.,

Ionio, Chiara, et al. Mothers and Fathers in Nicu: The Impact of Preterm Birth on Parental Distress. Europes Journal of Psychology, vol. 12, no. 4, 18 Nov. 2016, pp. 604621.,

Luu, Jenny, et al. A Comparison of Children Born Preterm and Full-Term on the Autism Spectrum in a Prospective Community Sample. Frontiers in Neurology, vol. 11, 3 Dec. 2020, pp. 112.,

Peacock, Janet L., et al. Neonatal and Infant Outcome in Boys and Girls Born Very Prematurely. Pediatric Research, vol. 71, no. 3, 18 Jan. 2012, pp. 305310.,

World Health Organization. Preterm Birth. World Health Organization, World Health Organization, 19 Feb. 2018,

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