What is a micro preemie? 

You might have heard the fairy tale about the girl who was small enough to sleep in a walnut shell. Micro preemies aren’t quite that small, but they are so little that they can usually fit snugly in the palm of their parent’s hand. The term ‘micro preemie’ describes babies who are born extremely early and, as a result, are very, very small indeed!

What makes a preemie a micro preemie? 

The guidelines vary by hospital, but preemies are usually categorized by their age.
  • When a baby is born at 33 to 36 weeks of their mother’s pregnancy, he or she is considered late preterm.
  • At weeks 29 to 32, babies are very preterm.
  • At 26 to 28 weeks, babies are moderately preterm.
  • If a baby is born between 23 to 25 weeks, they’re considered a micro preemie.

Do micro preemies have different needs in the NICU? 

Micro preemies do need more care than other preemies in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), because for the most part, they still have one more trimester to go before they’re ready to enter the ‘real world.’ The staff in the NICU plays a huge role in helping micro preemies as they grow and get closer to their real due date. Most micro preemies need help with the following things in particular.
  • Breathing: Because their lungs haven’t developed yet.
  • Feeding: Micro preemies usually get their nutrients through an IV until they’re about 34-35 weeks old, when most preemies can successfully bottle- or breast-feed.
  • Hearts: Nurses and doctors work hard to prevent heart murmurs, which preemies are at a higher risk for.

Leaving the NICU with a micro preemie 

Micro preemies can leave the NICU when tests show that they can keep themselves warm, eat, breathe, and grow on their own. Because they were born so early, micro preemies need medical care beyond the time of their stay in the hospital. Parents of micro preemies usually take some medical equipment home with them to support their baby’s development and growth outside of the hospital. Caring for a micro preemie after NICU discharge can sometimes take a lot of work! Parents might have to keep their baby on oxygen, restrict visitors for the first few weeks or months, administer certain medications, and regularly see specialists.
Of course, the NICU staff will teach a baby’s parents or caregivers these kinds of skills before they discharge the baby, to make sure the caregivers are fully prepared for the days ahead (at least until the next check-up).
Micro preemies also face the same long-term health risks as other preemies do, but their risk of these conditions is a little higher due to how early they were born. Some complications that micro preemies can experience include chronic asthma, cerebral palsy, learning difficulties, and conditions like ADD and ADHD.

Micro preemies: Tiny gifts

When micro preemies are born, they still have a lot of growing left to do, and the NICU can help them grow to full-term. Because they’re born so early, micro preemies need extra attention during their hospital stay, and many are at a higher risk of long-term health problems that, in many cases, can be treated with surgery or physical therapy. Despite their size, though, micro preemies have an amazing amount of strength and resilience.

  • James G. Anderson, Rebecca J. Baer, J. Colin Partridge, Miriam Kuppermann, Linda S. Franck, Larry Rand, Laura L. Jelliffe-Pawlowski, Elizabeth E. Rogers. “Survival and Major Morbidity of Extremely Preterm Infants: A Population-Based Study.” American Academy of Pediatrics. American Academy of Pediatrics, Jun 14 2016. Web.
  • Lex W. Doyle, Saroj Saigal. “Long-term outcomes of Very Preterm or Tiny Infants.” American Academy of Pediatrics. 10(3)e130-e137. Mar 2 2009. Web.
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. “Complications.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic Foundation, Nov 27 2014. Web.
  • Sandra Juul. “Birth at 26 Weeks Gestation.” Penut-trial. Sandra Juul, MD. 2013. Web.

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