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Premature Babies’ Temperaments

If your baby comes along prematurely, there are a lot of health risks that come with it. All the physical complications and hurdles are very well talked-about, but mums need to know about the non-physical side of things as well. A baby’s temperament is usually revealed within a few days of being born, and you get a sense of what their personality and behaviour will be like. With premature babies, their true temperament takes longer to appear.

Your baby would be one of three types of temperament – easy, difficult, or slow to start. Easy babies fall in the more relaxed and settled end of the scale, difficult babies are on the more irritable and shy end, and babies who are slow to start will show difficult signs at first, but warm into an easy temperament with time.

The broad categories used to determine temperament are:

  • Activity: is your baby always moving around or doing something?
    Or are they more sedate and relaxed?
  • Rhythmicity/Regularity: is your baby regular in their eating and sleeping habits?
    Or more erratic and irregular?
  • Approach/withdrawal: is your baby comfortable with everyone, even strangers?
    Or more shy with new people?
  • Adaptability: does your baby adapt to new and different routines easily?
    Or do they resist changes?
  • Intensity: does your baby react strongly to things that happen (positively or negatively)?
    Or do they react calmly and quietly to everything?
  • Mood: does your baby seem mostly negative about things?
    Or mostly positive?
    Does their mood change frequently?
    Or are they even-tempered?
  • Persistence/attention span: does your baby give up when tasks get hard?
    Or do they persevere with it?
    Do they stay with one task for a long time?
    Or tend to switch focus more frequently?
  • Distractibility: is your baby easily distracted from tasks?
    Or do they shut out distractions and continue with the task?
  • Sensory threshold: is your baby bothered by external stimuli like light, sound, and touch?
    Or do they ignore it and deal with these stimuli?

Some of these are different with premature babies, as they are still under-developed and need time to reach the same developmental stage as full-term babies. Premature infants are more sensitive to light, sound, and touch, as well as having more sensitive stomachs.They are also not able to express their needs as clearly as a full-term baby can, because of their developmental delay.

This sensitivity and inability to express themselves can cause them to be fussier, and get irritated quicker than full-term babies, causing their temperament to appear more difficult than if they had been born later.

So if your premature baby seems to be having a harder time of things in the first few months, remember that they are more sensitive and their temperament will settle into its true state soon enough.

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One comment so far -

  1. My prem always seemed to be an easy baby and still mostly is. He has been slower to walk and talk than his peers, but is more outgoing, more adaptable and is a lover of most people. Handles change very well, too. We like to say he is such a good baby because the NICU/SCN taught us well (and taught him well, too!).

    He gets frustrated a little at the moment (18m corrected age) as his language development is still catching up with his wants and needs. But mostly he is very similar in temperament as he was when born.

    Your article also does not mention the inevitable delays with understanding your premmie’s temperament due to being in a nursery, spending less time with them initially compared to full termers, and the difficulty of getting to know your baby in a public environment with various medical interventions taking place (like an isolette…hard to get to know them when they are in a plastic box!) Watching prems blossom into amazing little people when you know their rocky start is one of life’s amazing things.

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