How Long Does It Really Take for a Preemie to Catch Up?

Updated on October 25, 2008
M.K. asks from Lomita, CA
5 answers

My son was born exactly 2 months early. For the first year, he was about 2 months behind on all of his benchmarks, which should be expected. At a year, we had him evaluated by the Regional Center and he tested a 9 mo level. Because his adjusted age was only 10 mo, he did not qualify for any services.

He just turned 18 mo and still is not walking or talking. He is very close on both. He will walk very long distances holding a finger, but lacks confidence when I try to let go. He says mamma, dadda, and bubba (the dog) and will wave if anyone says goodbye. He has very extensive babble conversations, but nothing comprehendable. He is a very happy friendly kid and he shows no signs of autism or hearing problems, but seems to be developmentally closer to a 13 or 14 month old. I am starting to think that he may need speech and/or occupational therapy, but I don't know what age at which to evaluate him.

If he was born on his due date, he would only be 16 mo. Although I have been told that preemies catch up by the age of 2. By my calculations, he should be 3/4 caught up and closer to 17 1/2 months, right? My question is: how long does it really take for a preemie to catch up? Should be judging his walking and talking on him being 16 or 17 1/2 months old?

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answers from Los Angeles on

hi maureen.... my son was 6 weeks early and the doctors told me the same thing, that my son wont reach the milestones that babies who are born on or closer to there due date do... and his dr. also said that they judge him as preemie on his development only until hes 2.. and then afterwards they watch him as a normal 2 year old

but to me i just think every baby is different, and they do what they want when they want to.. my son can sit up and push himself around in his walker, but he wont crawl and only rolls over when he wants to and hes 8 1/2 months... (which he would really be only 7 months.)

if i were you i wouldnt really worry about it... unless when he starts to get a little older and hes still not caught up...
i hope everything goes well :]

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Las Vegas on

Every child is different and there is usually a "window" in which a child will developmentally achieve their gross motor/fine motor and speech goals. If you are having some concerns regarding your son's walking you can e-mail me privately (I am a pediatric physical therapist and specialize in preemies) and I can give you some suggestions to "boost" his confidence level. As far as speech is concerned he should have 2-3 words at 12 months per the speech therapists I know and that will increase to about 10 words by the time he is at his adjusted age of 24 months. Is is holding a sippy cup or bottle at this time? Is he playing with toys and engaging you with eye contact, etc? If so then I wouldn't worry about either fine motor or cognitive development at this time. Again, please feel free to write me - and I can give you some really easy techniques to get him walking independently. Then you'll REALLY be in trouble! LOL~
Take care and God bless,



answers from Los Angeles on

I really don't have an answer for your question; however, I do want to give you a little reassurance. My son was born after 40 weeks (way after due date and I think it was the threat of induction!!). But he did not walk until almost 19 months. The doctor was ready to start physical therapy etc. He is now 5 and in kindergarten working above his grade level, walking talking and everything normal. If your son isn't walking/talking yet, give it a little more time and be patient (I know it is hard, so many people told me the same thing and it was frustrating at the time). My doctor also told me that if he isn't walking and talking his brain/body is probably developing another area. I do know that my son was very good at stacking blocks, puzzles and most motor skills (just not walking!!). I am sure that he will be walking and talking in no time! And keep an eye out for the areas that he may be a little ahead of his age and realize that his body is in constant development. Good luck



answers from Los Angeles on

I have read and experienced that they catch up at about 2 years old. I have also know a few 18month olds that arent quite walking yet. Also, because he is a boy, speech may be a little slower to come. They have a speech explosion around 2 years old also. My husband used to think there was something wrong with my boy when he was 12months old and only had about 5 words. Now, my husband is asking how we shut him up!!!
Good luck



answers from Los Angeles on


My little dude, was also born 8 weeks early and spent 7 weeks in the NICU. It's tough to guage these things, with preemies (and I think all kids) I was immediately told to throw expectations out the window. That everything I read and looked up on-line would only hinder and not help me, help my son.

When he was born I was refered to Glendale Memorial Hospitals Early Stages Infant Clinic and they evaluated his progress every three months. At first, I felt like he wasn't ever going to catch up. He had a hard time sitting up, rolling over and carrying himself in the early their suggestions he started seeing a Occupational Therapist for an evaluation, and it was the best thing I ever did!! We went twice a week for almost six months, and then once a week for three months and he was done! It helped his walking progress faster and his motor skills catch up to his peers, and truly they gave me some insight and suggested activities I could do at home to help my son along. It was a bonding experience and amazing. Check with the NICU your son was in, and see if they have a sister program for these kinds of things. We didn't qualify for any of the free stuff, but there are usually programs around that can help. Or contact your insurance provider for names of clinics in the area.

As for the talking, my son is now 2 years old and has just now begun to string together sentences. It took him a while to catch up, but at the suggestion of the pediatrician and therapists, I bought all kinds of early reader books and spent tons of time reading to him and pointing to words and identifying objects by pointing at them. We'd take walks and I would talk to him and ask him questions. My son's doc says, he's doing great and that we shouldn't consider speech therapy just yet. He began with full words at about 16 months and just sort of stayed there for a while...not progressing past that until almost 20 months with phrases and word sets.

Using the adjusted age is better for developmental stages...that is what my son's doctor uses at Well Baby Checks and then shows me the typical results for a child his birth age. I always felt like using the birth age to check his range made me more consicious of what he WASNT' doing and not what he WAS doing...

Don't worry about how the charts and guidelines...unfortunately, there is not set meter for preemies and their development. I've looked so much up on-line and sometimes my son hits the mark and sometimes he doesn't. My son's doc said by age 3 most preemies are completely caught up, with growth and language skills and at that age is when we'll evaluate anymore therapy for speech or otherwise.

Good Luck and just remember, you're doing the best you can and so is your little One.