Early Intervention for Premature Babies: What to Expect

September 22, 2022

Premature babies or infants who have spent a lot of time in the NICU can be at risk for several developmental delays. Communication, cognitive, and motor skills can all be affected, so taking action as early as possible is essential.

We know this process can be overwhelming, but early interventionists are here for you, and we want to help your child thrive. We’ll tell you about early intervention for premature babies and their amazing benefits. 

Early Intervention Services for Premature Babies

Early intervention services are designed to help families and young children with a developmental delay (or those who may be at risk for a developmental delay). The goal is to ensure these children can grow to their greatest potential. The earlier these delays are recognized and treated, the better the child will be. 

According to Jennifer R. Benjamin, MD, “Research has shown that young brains are very receptive to therapies that help maximize physical and cognitive development, especially when initiated early.”

Not all children born prematurely will need early intervention, but they are at greater risk for many conditions that make them eligible (reflux, IVH, dysplasia, low birth weight, etc.). If your child does need a type of early intervention, here are some of the options:

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy will help your child develop gross motor skills and learn how to properly move their body. This could include improving muscle tone, range of motion, muscle strength, balance, flexibility, and more. 

Problems with muscle tone are common in premature children since the parts of their nervous system that controls muscles haven't always had the time to develop as they should. A physical therapist will work with your child to assess their needs and create an action plan. 

Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy is there to help your child succeed in tackling the activities of their everyday life. This could include eating, playing, or interacting with others. 

The types of occupational therapy your child needs will be specific to them. Usually, occupational therapists help a child to learn how to play with toys, develop feeding skills, improve fine motor skills, and manage sensory inputs. 

Speech Therapy

Feeding difficulties are common among preemies. The muscles used to suck, swallow, and chew haven’t had adequate time to develop, and the baby’s brain can’t yet coordinate these muscles, but speech therapy can help. 

Premature babies might be uncomfortable with the sensation of having something in their mouth or aren’t sensitive enough to recognize that something is in their mouth. This is especially true with babies that were fed intravenously. 

A speech therapist can help your baby develop the muscles needed for sucking and swallowing at the breast or bottle and the muscles needed to chew solid food. Speech therapy can also help your child correctly use their mouth, lips, and tongue to communicate more effectively. 

How To Enroll Your Child in Early Intervention

If you suspect your child could benefit from early intervention services, you can refer them to BabyNet. BabyNet is South Carolina’s interagency early intervention system. The program helps infants and toddlers under three years old with developmental delays or conditions. 

Refer Your Baby to BabyNet

If you think your child can benefit from EI services, the sooner you get started, the better. The referral process to apply for BabyNet is free, and you can fill out an online application, call the Central Referral Team, or fill out the form by hand and mail it in. 

When applying, the South Carolina Department of Disabilities and Social Needs will need specific information. Be sure to have:

  • Information regarding the child’s date of birth and social security number
  • Medical records
  • Other records or assessments indicating risk for the child’s developmental disability

After you contact BabyNet, they will evaluate your child’s developmental progress – at no cost to you. If they do qualify for early intervention, BabyNet will provide the necessary services, resources, and information so your family can receive the best possible care. They’re there to help. 

Early Intervention Services With About Play

Was your child born prematurely, and are they experiencing some developmental delays or disabilities because of it? Contact our team at About Play. We can help you get the high-quality early intervention services your child needs to learn and grow, and the resources your family needs to support them. Don’t hesitate to reach out; we’d love to help you and your family.

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