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Premature Baby: Complications Later in Life

Medically reviewed by Regina Victoria Boyles, MD · Pediatrics

Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Nov 13, 2022

Premature Baby: Complications Later in Life

A premature baby born before the 37th week of pregnancy may face several complications later in life. What are these complications, and is it possible to prevent them? Find out here.

It’s natural for preemies to experience short-term developmental problems

Before we enumerate and explain the possible long-term effects of premature birth, let’s first emphasize that short-term health concerns are expected among preemies. These health concerns mostly depend on how early your baby is born.

Late preterm babies or those born at 34 to 36 weeks may have developed organs.

However, they may still experience breathing and developmental difficulties. The highest risk occurs to extremely premature neonates, especially when they have particularly low-birth weight.

Some of the short-term health concerns preemies may have are:

And, of course, they may also experience some developmental delays. The good news is, most of these concerns will improve as your baby “catches up.”

A premature baby may also have persisting complications later in life

Besides the short-term effects, premature babies may also grow up with long-term complications. Some of those complications are:

Cerebral palsy

Cerebral palsy is a group of disorders affecting someone’s balance, posture, muscle strength, the ability to move and muscle coordination. Experts say this condition occurs due to permanent damage to the developing brain; the damage may happen before birth, during birth, within the first month of the baby’s life, or within the first year.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, premature babies are at a higher risk of developing cerebral palsy, especially if they are born before the 32nd week of pregnancy.

Moreover, babies with low-birth-weight (less than 2.5 kilograms) also have heightened risk.


Most cases of cerebral palsy cannot be prevented. If you’re planning to get pregnant, take all the necessary measures to reduce your risk of preterm birth. Once your baby is born, discuss with your doctor about ways to boost their brain development through diet and activities.

premature baby complications later in life

Visual and hearing problems

Two of the complications that a premature baby may experience later in life are vision and hearing problems.

The blood vessels in the preemie’s retina may swell, resulting in scarring and cause retinal detachment, which can lead to vision impairment or loss. Other premature babies may also have eye problems like short-sightedness, far-sightedness, or squint.

Furthermore, preterm neonates can also become hard-of-hearing or develop hearing loss. The good news is, very few children experience severe problems in both their ears that require cochlear implants or hearing aid.


Preemies are often scheduled for early, regular eye tests to pick up problems at the earliest possible time. This increases the chance of successful treatment.

Same goes for hearing: premature babies often receive hearing tests before leaving the hospital after birth. Hearing tests are crucial because babies need to hear to develop language and communication skills.

Learning difficulties

The majority of preemies learn as well as full-term kids; however, learning difficulties are still a part of the complications that a premature baby may experience later in life.

Some babies may have trouble reading, planning, and focusing. Still, parents may not be able to pick up the issues until their children start school, when they evidently lag behind their classmates.

But it is important to note that some studies suggest that  some premature babies are particularly “gifted” or smarter than their full-term counterparts.


However if your child struggles to catch up, interventions will depend on several factors like the type of learning difficulty your child develops and how early it was detected. Generally, preemies might need extra support at school.

Social and emotional problems

As with learning difficulties, most preemies develop well socially and emotionally. However, there’s also a chance that they’ll behave differently than full-term kids.

It’s possible that while preemies grow, they will find it hard to “fit in.” They may have tantrums and trouble managing their feelings.

Furthermore, premature babies are at a higher risk of experiencing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, anxiety, and autism spectrum disorder.


Like learning difficulties, the interventions for long-term social and emotional effects of premature birth depend on the child’s experiences. The best course of action is to discuss things with your child’s doctor when you’re worried about their development.

Key Takeaways

Even if a baby is born prematurely, they still can grow up to be healthy and on track in terms of their developmental milestones.

As always, it’s best to consult your child’s pediatrician in order to better prepare for any future complications.

Learn more about Premature Babies here


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Regina Victoria Boyles, MD


Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Nov 13, 2022

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