Does Premature Birth Affect an Infant’s Intelligence?

Does Premature Birth Affect an Infants Intelligence

What Is a Premature Baby?

In humans, normal pregnancy begins on the first day of the mother’s last menstruation cycle and goes on for approximately two-eighty days. Infants that are born earlier than 37 recorded weeks of pregnancy are referred to as premature babies. Extremely premature infants, on the other hand, are the ones born before 32 weeks of pregnancy.

These infants’ birth weight is generally below 2500 grams, and their recorded head circumference is 33 centimeters. Even if an infant’s weight is more than 2500 grams but their organ function, as well as their adaptability, is still worse than normal infants, they should still be put under intensive care. Besides that, despite the length of the mother’s gestation period, a weight below 2500 grams is still called a lower-than-normal birth weight. Moreover, an infant’s birth weight within the range of 1000 grams and 1499 grams is termed a very “low birth weight”. Lastly, a baby with weight below 1000 grams is considered an “extremely low birth weight” baby.   

How Can the Intellectual Development of a Premature Infant be Improved?

Early intervention in the neonatal period can boost a prematurely born child’s otherwise-threatened intellectual development. This can improve the maximum potential of the child’s brain and help reduce the risk of mental retardation. Early intervention involves prevention-based programs administered to the baby not too long after their birth and while the child’s brain is still malleable. Such a treatment begins a while after an infant’s birth until they reach the age of three.

The health complications that premature babies suffer from can expose them to stunted development which includes speech difficulties, emotional issues, cognitive disorders, and more. Although there is evidence of mental retardation or, in more complicated cases, cerebral palsy in premature infants, it still cannot be considered a universal truth. When caring for a prematurely born child, it is important to get involved in the child’s intellectual development at an early stage. This is the only way possible to counteract the chances of mental retardation in the infant.

Parents can have EEG and brain CT examinations carried out on their new-born on the third day after the premature birth. They can also, with the help and guidance from paediatricians, administer medicines that boost brain cell metabolism in infants.

With a doctor’s advice, parents can also help with the stimulation of the baby’s vision as well their other main senses such as touch or hearing. It is also vital to enhance the infant’s capabilities when it comes to language and perception. When intervening in the child’s intellectual development, parents are to be gentle and patient, and they should not rush forward with the treatments. Parents should not feel discouraged because as long as they can seize the right time to intervene (with professional help) the premature infant’s intelligence can prove to be up to par with the intelligence of normal babies.

What are Some Intelligence Tests for Evaluating New-Borns?

Test 1: Visual Tracking Capabilities with Human Faces or Red Balls.

Lay the baby on their back with their head positioned in the middle. Use a red-colored ball (10 centimeters in diameter) and gradually shake it at a close distance of 20 centimeters from the infant’s eyes to attract their attention. After that, move it in an arc from left to right and back again and observe the movement of the infant’s eyes and head moving to follow the red ball.

Normal Cases: A normal full-term, one month-old infant can move their eyeballs but not their head. An infant at two months can move their eyes and turn their head left and right (45 degrees each). Lastly, an infant at three to four months can turn their head left and right (at 90 degrees each, 180 degrees arc).

Abnormal Cases: Abnormal cases involve a baby not being able to stare or chase the object with its eyes. Their head-turning range is small.

Test 2: Sitting Posture with Head Upright

Lay the baby on their back with their head in the middle. Support the infant by gently holding their forearms, then slowly pull them up 45 degrees to observe their upright head. After that, gently pull the infant into a sitting position to observe their upright head.

Normal Cases: A normal month-old infant’s head falls back when pulled up but can stay upright for 5 seconds in a sitting position. An infant at two to three months hangs back slightly as well but can stay upright for approximately 15 seconds. At four months, a normal infant’s head and torso can stay upright when pulled up.

Abnormal Cases: Abnormal cases involve a month-old infant not being able to keep their head upright (as per normal standards), or the infant at three to four months not being able to keep their head upright and pulled up.

Test 3: Prone Position with Head Upright and Hand Support

Placing the baby in the prone position, attempt to gain their attention with a toy in front of the head. Then observe the baby’s head response and hand support.

Normal Cases: A normal month-old infant will turn their head to one side. An infant at two months can slowly lift their head for a brief moment, chin off the surface they are lying on. A baby at three months raises their head more than 45 degrees with elbow support. A baby at four months can raise their head 90 degrees with elbow support.

Abnormal Cases: Cases are considered abnormal when babies of two to three months are not being able to lift their head. If even at 4 months of age, the baby’s chest is not being propped up by the elbows from the bed (or another surface), it is considered abnormal.

Test 4: Reaching Out

Lay the baby supine, hold up a toy in front of them, and observe if they attempt to reach out to grab it.

Normal Cases: A baby at three months will attempt to reach out but will not be able to do so. A baby at four months can reach out but not necessarily towards the toy. A baby of five months can reach out.

Abnormal Cases: Abnormal cases involve a baby not being able to reach out at four or even five months of age.

Test 5: Turning Over

Lay the baby supine, use a toy to gain their attention and make them attempt to turn over.

Normal Cases: A normal baby at three months will be aware of turning over and will be able to lie on their side. At four months, they will also be able to turn from the supine position to the prone position.

Abnormal Cases: An abnormal case is when infant has no awareness of turning over at four months. A baby at five months not being able to lie on their side as well as in the supine or prone positions is also considered abnormal.

Test 6: Communication and Expressing Emotions

Communicating with a baby face to face and observing their reactions.

Normal Cases: A baby at two months can smile spontaneously and make small guttural sounds. A baby at three months can laugh as a response to the accompanying person’s expressions. A baby at four months will take interest in their surroundings. A baby at six months will be able to recognize familiar faces.

Abnormal Cases: Abnormal cases include: a baby at three months not being able to respond to communication; a baby at five months showing no interest in their surroundings; a baby at six months not being able to react to any kind of stimulation and not being able to show any special reactions to the person/people caring for them.

What are Some Important Precautions when Caring for a Prematurely Born Infant?

Premature infants are extremely fragile and must be handled carefully. Following are some important precautions to keep in mind:

  • When playing with a prematurely born infant, it is best to move slowly and gently. Do not surround the baby with too many toys or people as that could overstimulate them.
  • Pay attention to each reaction a premature baby gives. If they turn their head or stop looking at you, it means they have had enough. Stop playing with the baby once this happens.
  • Be wary of the indoor temperature, because premature infants lack the mechanisms that automatically regulate their body temperature. They lack any subcutaneous fat to keep themselves warm and lose heat rapidly.
  • During the night, turn on a night light or play comforting music to help premature babies adapt to their environment as they can be sensitive to it.
  • Wrap the premature baby snugly. Pay attention that the swaddling materials are soft and do not irritate the skin. The head must not be wrapped.
  • Premature babies are sensitive to air pollutants as their respiratory systems are underdeveloped. The air in the nursery must be clean for them.
  • The baby supplies, crib, or whatever surrounds the premature baby must not be bright as this can overstimulate the baby.
  • If a premature infant can suckle, give them a pacifier to suckle on as that can help them develop oral skills and give them a sense of safety.
  • Pay special attention to the baby’s needs, and do not impose on them.

When Should a Premature Infant Be Taken to a Doctor?

If a premature baby shows the twelve signs listed below, it is advisable to take them to a doctor:

  • When the skin around their nose and lips turns blue.When their complexion is paler than usual.
  • When they are unable to eat.
  • When they are more irritable than usual.
  • When they do not respond to stimulus.
  • When their vomiting is unusual.
  • When they are having difficulties breathing.
  • When their breathing rhythm is unusual.
  • When they are suffering from diarrhoea for more than one day.
  • When there are changes in their bowel habits.
  • When they have a fever.
  • When apneas appear (abnormal pauses in breathing).

Is a Baby’s Intelligence Affected by Premature Birth?

Premature birth does have a certain impact on a baby’s intelligence because the later stage of pregnancy is critical to their brain development. Because premature infants leave the uterine environment earlier than expected, their brain development is less mature compared to full-term babies in that the number of brain cells they have is less than that of full-term infants. Other various organs of the body do not reach full maturity either.

Premature babies may also suffer from various health conditions at birth like hypoglycemia, hypoxia, and more. These problems can have a direct effect on the infant’s brain development. Even if the baby does not have brain damage, they are still vulnerable to multiple complications at a later age.

Additionally, if a baby is born prematurely, they might suffer from feeding problems as well i.e., necrotizing enterocolitis etc. These issues affect how the baby’s body absorbs nutrients, and that can affect their brain development.

How Can a Premature Infant’s Intellectual Development Be Evaluated?

Comparison with Corrected Monthly Age

The intelligence of premature babies that are below two years old can be judged by comparing them with corrected monthly age. For instance, if the infant is five months old but was born a month prematurely, the baby’s corrected age will be four months. During this time, the infant’s developmental evaluation can be compared with the developmental standards of a four-month-old, full-term baby.

Using a Child Development Scale

Mothers can use scientific child development scales to check the baby’s development. Since the baby’s development is a continuous process, the mother must continue with such an assessment and not stop it.

Regular Hospital Visits

Parents must take the baby to the hospital for regular examinations. They must also ask the doctor to assess the baby’s development thoroughly and conduct early rehabilitation if need be.

How Can a Premature Baby’s Intelligence Be Developed?

Developing a Close Parent-Child Relationship

Parents can cultivate a good parent-child relationship by catering to the baby’s needs, making eye contact with the baby while talking, and playing with the baby.

Conscious Feeding

Parents must pay special attention to reasonable feeding and correct nutrition for the baby which can help lower the effects of premature delivery on the baby’s intellectual development.

Early Prevention Stimulation

The appropriate amount of early intervention can augment the brain development of premature infants. Parents can, with the help of a doctor, take part in this by playing games with the baby to enhance the perceptual stimulation of their senses. They can also take part in some passive exercises, such as dance, to give the baby more means of language communication.


While premature birth can affect how a child grows up, their parents and family can still help minimize the more concerning effects that come with premature birth, giving the child a healthy and joyful childhood.

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