Physical Features of a Premature Newborn
It’s important to be able to distinguish an early baby from a full term so that you can understand the newborn’s behaviour in the first few weeks of life. A full term baby will suck and swallow well, be wakeful and be soaking diapers by Day 3. The premature baby will likely get jaundiced (yellow skin), be sleepy and uncoordinated with breastfeeding. The premature baby needs constant warmth (kangaroo care on the mother’s body is best) and must be fed by dropper, syringe or tiny cup until the sucking reflex develops. Even if the baby is sleeping, it must be dropper fed and encouraged to swallow by stroking the cheeks or lips. Dehydration is a real danger with premature infants.
Signs that you have an early baby (under 38 weeks gestation)
Large head relative to rest of the body
Little fat under the skin; lots of vernix (cheesy coating) at birth
Thin, shiny, pink skin
Veins visible beneath the skin
Few creases on soles of feet (heel will be smooth, not printed).
Fine hair (lanugo) on the shoulders and back (often called “monkey hair”)
Soft ears, with little cartilage
Underdeveloped breast tissue
Boys: Small scrotum with few folds. Testicles may be undescended. Girls: Labia majora not yet covering labia minora
Rapid breathing with brief pauses (periodic breathing), often apnea spells (pauses lasting greater than 20 seconds)
Weak, poorly coordinated sucking and swallowing reflexes
Reduced physical activity (a premature newborn tends not to draw up the arms and legs as does a full-term newborn)
Sleeping for most of the time Here’s a pdf of newborn reflexes and characteristics that might be helpful to you and your clients.