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Baby Care

Premature Baby’s Appearance

What preemie-parents need to know so they don’t get alarmed.

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Updated on:
September 30, 2022
In the Article

The parents of pre-term infants are often shocked when they see their baby at first. Without the layer of fat that the baby should have gained in the last few weeks in the womb, he appears frail and tiny. The average preemie weighs between 1,600 grams (about 31⁄2 pounds) and 1,900 grams (about 4 pounds, 3 ounces) at birth, and some weigh even lesser.

  • The smallest can fit in the palm of an adult hand and have wrists and hands so tiny that a finger ring could be slipped over them.
  • The preemie’s skin is translucent, leaving veins and arteries visible. There are wrinkles as well since there is no fat to stretch it. Absence of fat makes it quite impossible for a baby's temperature to regulate. The baby is likely to be quite hairy too: this is the fine layer of prenatal body hair, or lanugo, that has usually been shed by full-term infants. 
  • Alarmed that your baby changes colour when you touch him or feed him? It is because he has an immature circulatory system.
  • Your little one’s ears may be flat, folded, or floppy because the cartilage that will give them shape has yet to develop. 
  • While newborns have a curled up posture, with their limbs folded up, preterm babies are stretched out. This is because they never had to fold to fit in a cramped uterus unlike the full-term babies.
  • Sexual characteristics are usually not fully developed testicles may be undescended, the foreskin in boys and the inner folds of the labia in girls may be immature, and there may be no areola around the nipples.
  • Because muscular and nerve development are not complete, many reflexes (such as grasping, sucking, startle, rooting) may be absent.
  • Unlike full-term babies, a preemie may cry little or not at all. He or she may also be subject to periods of breathing stopping, known as apnea of prematurity.

Take heart in the fact, parents, that these features resolve with time. Once preterm newborns reach 40 weeks of gestation, the time when, according to the calendar, they should have been born, they very much resemble the typical newborn in size and development.