Most pregnancies last approximately 40 weeks.
Babies, however, can be unpredictable, and sometimes show themselves to the world a little earlier than planned.
Unfortunately, when this happens it can lead to health complications.
We’re District Speech, and we offer services which can be useful to families with premature babies.
From the time of birth, pediatric physical therapy for premature babies may be required to help promote growth and development.
As children grow older, they may need to take advantage of our services offering speech therapy for children as well.
Keep reading to learn more about the complications which could arise in premature infants, and how pediatric rehabilitation therapy can help.
What Is A Premature Baby?
A baby born at or before 37 weeks of pregnancy is considered premature.
Because premature infants have had less time to grow and develop than those who are brought to full term before being born, there can be a variety of health concerns and complications which come with it.
It’s important to note that just the fact of being premature doesn’t guarantee a child will experience these complications.
However, if you have had a premature baby it is important to be aware of what to watch for.
Common Health Complications With Premature Babies
There are a variety of complications which could come with premature infants.
Let’s have a closer look at a few of them, and how a physical therapist or speech therapist can help with each.
Cerebral palsy affects muscle movement, coordination, tone, and balance and is the most common cause of motor disabilities in childhood.
The word “cerebral” means having to do with the brain, and “palsy” means weakness.
Some of the symptoms of cerebral palsy include:
- Delays in reaching milestones related to motor skills
- Neurological issues such as intellectual disabilities, blindness, and seizures
- Poor muscle tone
- Problems with swallowing
- Lack of coordination
How Can Pediatric Physical Therapy Help?
Physical therapy can be very useful in treating cerebral palsy.
The treatment offered will be tailored to each individual, there is no “one size fits all approach”.
However, pediatric physical therapy for cerebral palsy will generally involve aspects which include the following elements:
- Exercises for strength and flexibility
- Heat treatment
- Equipment designed to offer more independence
The goal of physical therapy for cerebral palsy will be to improve the following areas:
- Pain management
How Can Speech Therapy For Children Help?
Cerebral palsy has been linked with a number of different speech & language disorders.
This includes articulation disorders and dysarthria.
If your baby has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, it’s a good idea to book your appointment with a speech therapist at District Speech as soon as possible.
This is because early intervention speech therapy treatments have been shown to have better results.
Lack Of Muscle
Infants born prematurely may have a lack of muscle, decreased strength, or lowered muscle tone.
This is a result of not having the same amount of time to grow and develop in the womb as infants who were brought to full term.
If not addressed, a lack of muscle can lead to issues with interacting with the environment, as well as delays in meeting developmental milestones for activities such as sitting, crawling, and walking.
How Can A Pediatric Physical Therapist Help?
A pediatric physical therapist can work with you and your child in order to develop muscle, as well as:
- Encouraging movement
- Improving strength
- Reducing and preventing joint and muscle issues
- Using toys to encourage movement
- Increasing activity
Flat Head Syndrome
Flat head syndrome – an infant with flat head – might be one of the most appropriately named disorders.
There are a few different types of flat head syndrome which you could encounter with a premature baby.
is when your baby’s head becomes flattened on the side or back.
This generally occurs when a baby lacks the strength to move their head and neck around and ends up lying in the same position too much.
Scaphocephaly often occurs in premature babies who spend time in the neonatal ICU, as they are often positioned on one side for treatment.
Each of these disorders is more common in premature babies, according to a study by Ifflaender Et Al.
Although this is largely a cosmetic issue, it can lead to issues such as:
- Delayed intellectual development
- Poor motor skills
- Impaired hearing and vision
- Social anxiety
- Problems with balance
How Can A Pediatric Physical Therapist Help?
The primary approach often used for infants with flat head syndrome is education.
Parents and caregivers will need to learn how to position infants in ways which promote normal skull development.
This means playtime – but not sleep time – on the stomach to prevent pressure on the head, and discouraging the baby from favoring one side over the other.
A special helmet can also be used to help promote and redirect skull growth.
Reading & Learning Disabilities
As infants grow into toddlers, the effects of being born prematurely can have an impact on speech and language development, as well as affect their ability to read and spell.
Delays in the development of motor skills, and cognition can have an impact on reading development and lead to learning disabilities.
In addition, the risk of these sorts of complications increases greatly for infants who are considered “Very pre-term” (born before 33 weeks), or whose birth weight is under 3 pounds, 5 ounces.
Other than premature birth, reading & learning disabilities have a number of different causes, including:
- Down Syndrome
- Fetal alcohol syndrome
- Injury or illness during pregnancy or early childhood
How Can A Speech Therapist Help?
If you are worried your child may not be learning to read at an appropriate rate for their age, or that they may be showing signs of a learning disability, speech and language therapy treatments for learning and reading disabilities can help.
They will provide supports to help ensure your child has the optimal environment required for learning language and reading skills.
Intervening early, as the brain is forming new pathways, is critical.
These interventions would include approaches meant to target cognitive, speech, language, and social abilities.
Feeding & Swallowing Issues
Premature babies are more likely to need , due to their digestive systems not being fully developed.
Additionally, issues with lack of muscle tone may make sucking and swallow more difficult.
Some signs of issues related to feeding and swallowing include:
- Being fussy while feeding
- Difficulty with chest or breast feeding
- Problems breathing while feeding
- Coughing and gagging at mealtime
- Not gaining weight at an appropriate rate for their age
How Can A Speech Therapist Help?
A speech therapist will watch how your child uses their mouth and tongue to each and may run some tests to determine more precisely the root of the issue.
A speech therapist will often work as part of a larger team to help treat issues relating to feeding and swallowing.
Solutions may include, but are not limited to:
- Autism testing & evaluation
- Cleft lip & cleft palate speech therapy
- Tongue tie speech therapy
- Tongue thrust speech therapy treatment
This team may include nurses, doctors, lactation consultants, physical therapists, dieticians or nutritionists and other health professionals invested in the health and wellness of your baby.
A speech therapist can help specifically with:
- Exercises to strengthen the muscles of the mouth
- Getting them to try different types of food or drink
- Assisting with sensory issues, related to food texture or temperature
- Helping them move their tongue more while eating
- Helping babies learn how to breathe better while eating or drinking
Book Your Appointment With District Speech Today
Are you worried about the developmental issues which could affect your premature baby?
Perhaps you’re already noticing signs of muscle weakness, flat head syndrome, or feeding issues in your little bundle of joy.
Thankfully, District Speech can help, right through from infancy to the toddler years, first with pediatric physical therapy services, and then with any speech language therapist needs you may have we’ll be with you and your child the whole way.
Contact us today for a consultation, or to learn more about our services.
1300 I St NW, #400E,
Washington, DC 20005
District Speech and Language Therapy specializes in speech therapy, physical therapy, and occupational therapy solutions, for both children and adults, in the Washington D.C and the Arlington Virginia areas.