Premature Babies and Speech Development- What you need to know

Updated: Jul 31, 2021

Was your baby born prematurely? Did you know premature birth can affect speech and language development? We consulted the research to find out exactly what's known.

premature baby

Infants born prematurely (< 37 weeks) or of a low birth weight (under 5lb 8oz) are at a much greater risk of experiencing language and speech difficulties in their toddler years. Yet research further shows that language and speech difficulties often continue to persist well into the school-age years. The areas affected are:

  • Understanding of sentences and questions

  • Expressing themselves (using language to tell stories, express opinions)

  • Reading and spelling

  • Sound production (difficulty making certain sounds)

  • Grammar and sentence structure

Premature babies are also additionally at risk of delays in motor skills, in the integration of primitive reflexes and development of cognition, all of which can impact language development.

The risk of persistent difficulties in these areas increases significantly for very pre-term (born < 33 weeks into the mother’s pregnancy) or for infants of very low birth weight (under 3lb 5oz). Despite this increased risk, many pre-mature infants do catch up to their peers by the start of the school year! Unfortunately, there are no reliable predictors that can accurately determine which pre-mature toddlers with language difficulties will catch up to their peer group naturally and which will continue to have persistent language difficulties in their early school years. For this reason, parents of pre-term infants are encouraged to involve a Speech Language Pathologist to monitor their child’s development regularly to ensure that they are on the right trajectory and engage in early intervention strategies.