If your premature baby was born 3 months early, and she’s now 12 months old, should you treat her like a one-year-old or a nine-month old? The answer to this question depends on why you’re asking the question.
Corrected age: what is it?
Corrected age, or adjusted age, is your premature baby’s chronological age minus the number of weeks or months he was born early.
For example, a one-year-old who was born three months early would have a corrected age of nine months.
Why corrected age is important
Babies’ brains grow and develop in two main ways – first, according to a preprogrammed biological sequence and, second, in response to their experiences.
Often, you can’t change or hurry up development until the right part of the preprogrammed sequence has finished. For example, you can’t hurry up a child’s walking by holding under her arms and ‘walking’ her around. For walking to happen, all the parts of the brain that control walking skills – balance, muscle coordination, ability to judge distance and so on – must be ready.
So corrected age can be helpful if you’re trying to work out whether your premature baby’s development is tracking ‘normally’. For example, your one-year-old premature baby might not be crawling. But if you think of your baby’s age as nine months rather than one year, you don’t need to worry about this.
Corrected age is especially relevant during your child’s early years.
When corrected age isn’t useful
If your child needs early intervention services, it isn’t a good idea to use corrected age. Using your child’s uncorrected age will make him seem ‘older’, so his need for services is greater.
And if you’re giving your child a first birthday party, of course you celebrate her birthday one year from when she was born!
How corrected age affects different areas of development
All children have variations in their development, regardless of whether they were premature or full term.
Being premature can affect every aspect of development differently. Some areas might not be affected at all, while others could be profoundly affected. Using your baby’s corrected age for growth is particularly important.
Who to tell about your child’s corrected age
It’s a good idea to tell child care teachers, preschool teachers, health professionals and anyone who cares for or works with your child that he was born prematurely. They’ll also find it useful to know how many weeks early he was born.
Corrected age might explain things that look like lags in development in the early years. How early your child was born is also important because it might explain any developmental problems when she’s older.
Whether there’s a short-term lag or a longer-lasting developmental problem, it will be helpful even for school teachers to know that your child was born early.
When to stop using corrected age
Health professionals don’t agree about when to stop correcting a child’s age for prematurity.
Some professionals don’t correct at all, and some say that you should correct until school age. The majority recommend correcting at least until your child is two years old.
How to answer questions about your child’s development
You might find it helpful to explain corrected age to friends and family.
For example, if someone notices that your child is six months old but not sitting up yet, you could explain that he was born three months early. If you look at his corrected age, he’s really only three months old and he’s doing everything a three-month-old usually does.
How corrected age affects your child’s play and interactions
You might notice that other children of the same chronological age can do more than your premature baby. But if you think in terms of corrected age, you might find that what your child can do is just right for her age.
Your premature child will learn a lot from having plenty of different things to play with, do and see – for example, being read to, going out to the park and playing with other children.
All these different and stimulating experiences help your child’s brain to develop.
Corrected age and starting child care, preschool or school
Your child might start preschool and school based on his chronological age, not his corrected age.
But a few months in age can make a difference to what a child can do and what she’s expected to do, especially at preschool. Some parents decide to delay school for a year, if their child’s corrected age is just below school entry age. This can give your child extra time to catch up in growth and develop the social skills she needs for preschool and school.
If your child is assessed for any development delays, you can ask for the test results to be scored at both your child’s corrected and chronological ages.
When to have immunisations
Premature babies generally get the same immunisations at the same chronological age as full-term babies. Premature babies need the protection of immunisation because they’re more likely to get certain infections.
If your baby was very premature, he might get his first immunisations while he’s still in hospital. He might also need an extra dose of some vaccines when he’s older.
It’s best to speak to your child’s doctor or paediatrician about your child’s needs.