Development is a term that refers to the ways in which an infant matures and learns new skills, and it begins long before birth.
If your baby had stayed in the womb until your due date, his development would have continued there until he was ready to be born. But because he arrived prematurely, he still has some developing to do. This is the reason his age doesn't match the things he's able to do.
Your baby's development will progress in very small steps. Every day he's learning to gain control over his body in ways that full-term babies are born knowing and doing automatically.
Your baby's nervous system controls how well his vital organs function. Because his nervous system is still maturing and developing, his heart rate, breathing, nerves, and muscles aren't working properly yet. The stronger he grows, the more signs you will see that his nervous system is gaining control.
- Heartbeat and Breathing Rate: These will become regular and grow stronger. He will no longer need medicines to help regulate them.
- Lungs: His lungs will mature and develop and he will no longer need machines, such as a respirator, to help him breathe.
- Digestive System: As your baby's digestive system matures, he will progress from IV feedings to tube-feedings and eventually to breast and/or bottle-feeding.
- Muscle Control: As your baby's nervous system develops, he'll gain better control of the muscles in his arms, legs, and entire body. His movements will become smoother and he'll be able to make his muscles do what he wants them to.
- Regular Sleeping and Waking Patterns: Since premature babies require so much sleep, it may be hard for your baby to be wide awake and pay attention to what's going on around him. Soon though, his waking and sleeping patterns will be more like those of a full-term baby. As your baby grows, you'll be able to better predict his waking and sleeping patterns. Soon enough he'll be alert, able to grab your finger or hair, and give you that unforgettable first smile.
Think of your baby's development as a set of stairs that he will climb.