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  • January 2022 Late Preterm Babies: Special Concerns Newsletter


Late Preterm Babies

Babies born before 37 completed weeks of gestation are considered premature or preterm. Preterm babies born before 32 completed weeks of gestation face the greatest health risks because they have not had enough time to develop in their mothers’ wombs.

Most premature babies are born later, between 34 and 37 completed weeks of gestation. These births are called late preterm births. In the United States, approximately 70 percent of all preterm births are late preterm births, and late preterm births make up about 7 percent of all live births. Older preterm babies born between 34 and 37 completed weeks of gestation are called late preterm babies.

Late preterm babies often look healthy and may even weigh as much as full-term babies. However, these infants are still premature babies with immature organs and body systems. They may have more difficulties adapting to life outside the womb than full-term babies. Late-preterm babies also are at increased risk for potentially serious health problems.

In previous articles, Childbirth Graphics has examined important facts about preterm labor and potential complications of premature birth. This month, we take a closer look at special concerns for late preterm babies. Read on to learn more about key health issues that may affect late preterm babies, and discover just a few of our many educational resources that focus on issues related to premature birth, such as healthy pregnancy and newborn care.

Special Health Concerns in Late Preterm Babies

Breathing Issues

Late-preterm babies may have an increased risk for respiratory distress. Their lungs may not have had enough time to mature inside the womb. Their central nervous systems, including their brains, also may not be mature enough to regulate breathing. Late preterm infants may experience apnea, which are periods when breathing stops for 20 seconds or longer. Healthcare professionals need to monitor late-preterm babies for respiratory problems before they leave the hospital. After their baby’s discharge, parents and caregivers of late preterm babies should seek emergency care if their baby has breathing difficulties.

Our Signs of Preterm Labor Tear Pad provides valuable
take-home information on preterm labor warning signs.

Feeding Issues

Late preterm babies often have feeding problems. Compared to full-term babies, they may have more trouble sucking and swallowing, feed more slowly, and tire more easily during feedings. They also may not be able to take in as much breastmilk or formula during a feeding. At first, breastfeeding may be more difficult than with full-term babies, but it offers important health benefits. Breastmilk contains substances that help protect babies against infection. Premature babies who are fed breastmilk have better health outcomes than premature babies who are fed formula. Parents of late preterm babies should ask their baby’s healthcare professional how many times their baby should eat per day. If their baby starts to refuse feedings, the baby’s healthcare professional should be contacted. Breastfeeding mothers should contact a lactation consultant or another healthcare professional if they are experiencing any breastfeeding difficulties.

Our Breastfeeding Your Premature Baby Pamphlet explains
the important benefits breastmilk provides premature babies.

Sleeping Issues

Late-preterm babies may be sleepier than full-term babies. Although non-demanding, sleepy babies may seem like “good babies,” they can sleep through essential feedings. Also, as with all babies, sleep safety is important. Late-preterm babies are at greater risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) than full-term babies. A sleepy baby should be awakened after 3 to 4 hours for feedings. Parents and caregivers can waken sleepy babies by undressing them and changing diapers, wiping their faces with a cool washcloth, or singing and talking to them. As with any baby, practicing sleep safety is essential Babies should always be put on their backs to sleep. Soft objects and loose bedding should not be in a baby’s sleep area, and babies should never be exposed to secondhand smoke.

Our Waking a Sleeping Baby Tear Pad provides
tips to wake a sleepy baby for breastfeeding.

Temperature Problems

During the last 6 weeks of a full-term pregnancy, babies usually gain about 0.5 pounds (227 grams) per week. Because of their premature birth, late-preterm babies have less body fat than full-term babies and may have more difficulty regulating their body temperatures. As with all babies, late preterm infants should be kept away from drafts, and the room temperature should be kept warm enough to help the baby maintain a normal temperature. Infants should not be overdressed: Dressing the baby in one more layer than you are wearing is a general guideline.

Our English/Spanish Loving Baby Care: Sleep Safety Tear
provides clear steps to create a safe sleep environment.

Increased Risk for Jaundice and Infections

Late-preterm babies have immature immune systems, which can make them more likely to develop infections. They also are more likely to develop a yellowing of the skin and eyes, which is called jaundice. Jaundice is a symptom of hyperbilirubinemia, a condition that can damage the nervous system, including the brain, without early intervention and treatment. Late preterm infants should be screened for jaundice before discharge from the hospital and seen by their healthcare professionals within 48 hours after leaving the hospital. Parents and caregivers should immediately contact their baby’s healthcare professional if their baby has yellowing of the skin, is not feeding well, or is showing signs of infection or illness, such as difficulty breathing or fever.

Help new parents understand the facts about
jaundice with our Newborn Jaundice Tear Pad.


Late-preterm babies are at greater risk for newborn health issues, and they may also be more likely to have other health problems, such as asthma and cerebral palsy, developmental delays, and behavioral issues, as they get older. However, most late preterm infants do well in infancy and throughout childhood. Parents should contact their child’s healthcare professional anytime they have questions or concerns.

Discover More Great Educational Resources

Find more great educational resources to help educate parents about healthy pregnancy, premature birth, and newborn care in our product sections dedicated to pregnancy hazards, pregnancy, and newborns.

The information contained in this article is not intended to replace the advice of a healthcare professional.

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