How premature birth affects your baby

If your baby is born earlier than expected, your healthcare team will discuss risks to your baby and any treatments that can help. The risks to your baby depend on how early they are born.

3 out of 4 babies born at 26 weeks survive. By 28 weeks more than 8 out of 10 babies survive. A small number of these babies will have long-term health problems. Babies born before 24 weeks sadly have a much lower chance of surviving.

Neonatal intensive care unit (NICU)

Depending on how early your baby arrives, your baby may need to be cared for in a NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) or a SCBU (special care baby unit).

Your baby may need to be transferred to a different hospital with an NICU if there was no time to transfer during labour.

Read about neonatal intensive care and special care baby units

What your premature baby may look like

Your baby may be very small depending on how early they were born. Their skin may be translucent, and they might not have any fatty tissue under their skin. Their body may be covered with a fine, downy hair known as lanugo.

They may not be opening their eyes yet, and they may be unable to cry or might have a very faint cry.

Problems your premature baby may have

Babies born earlier than expected may have problems with:

  • breathing – they may need a tube placed into their airways to give them oxygen, especially if your baby was born at 27 weeks or earlier
  • keeping warm – they may need to be cared for in a special type of cot known as an incubator
  • feeding – your baby’s suck reflex may not have developed yet and they may need to be fed through a tube into their tummy
  • infection – they may need very close monitoring - any babies born early need to take antibiotics for a time

Page last reviewed: 18 September 2018
Next review due: 18 September 2021