Hand to Hold's Official Blog: Written by Parents for Parents

Preemie FAQs

Our friends and family definitely have questions about our preemies, their birth and their health. I’ve created a little list of some of the most frequently asked questions we got when our son was born at 26 weeks. So the next time you get bombarded with a bunch of questions, take a break instead of racking your brain and share this article with your loved ones.

preemie frequently asked questions NICU FAQs

What is adjusted age vs. actual age?

This question abounds among family and friends who are so confused as to why you’re saying that your baby, who was born 4 months ago, is “1 month adjusted.” What is up?

Basically actual age, or chronological age, is based on when your baby was born. His adjusted age, or corrected age, is how old he would be according to his due date, if he was born “on time.” Babies who are born premature had much more developing to do inside the womb. Since they are having to do their developing outside the womb, we have to adjust their age accordingly. Since my son was 3 months premature, when he was 4 months old, doctors measured him, weighed him and checked his developmental progress by his adjusted age, which was 1 month old. If he was doing things typical of a 1-month old, he was “on track.”

Can’t baby just go home once he hits a certain weight?

Nope! There are many milestones baby must reach before he can go home, and weight is not an indicator that those goals have been accomplished. There are 10-pound babies in NICU who can’t breathe, and 4-pound babies who can. Before baby can go home, he must learn to breathe efficiently on his own, hold his own temperature and take all feedings by mouth, to name a few. Baby’s weight does not ensure that any of those milestones have been reached.

Will there be long-term developmental issues?

It is of course hard to say for sure! The risk is there. Thankfully, a preemie’s development is constantly monitored, usually up until at least 2 years old, so if there are any issues the hope is that it will be caught early. Many preemies have no long-term or even short-term developmental issues, but others do.

Will he be like a “typical” baby when he comes home?

The answer to this will be different for every preemie baby. Because honestly, for some, the answer is yes. We brought our son home one week past his due date, weighing 8lbs, 6ozs (a typical newborn weight), and he had no medical needs. He was like a perfectly “typical” newborn baby. But obviously there are many preemie parents who have to deal with oxygen machines, delays, medicines and special needs when baby comes home. And even still there are parents who were so traumatized by a premature birth and NICU stay, that nothing regarding their baby really feels “typical.”

What happened?

I asked my husband what a common question was that he got about our son’s premature birth, and he said far and away this was his most frequently asked. What happened?

In my case I had Incompetent Cervix, in which the cervix dilates/shortens without contractions, so he said he had a fun time explaining to all his co-workers my condition by using his hands to form the shape of a cervix to demonstrate how it all works.

There are a number of conditions that can cause premature birth, including premature rupture of membranes (water breaking), placental problems and preeclampsia, but many women don’t have explanations for their premature birth.

A Very Common (Probably #1 Most Asked) Question: What are all the cords for?

Ah! How do I answer this? My husband loved telling people what all the cords did. I did not care to explain. But generally the cords are to monitor oxygen saturation and heart rate, in addition to tubes which are typically feeding tubes and breathing tubes to assist with breathing, which can be in either the nose or mouth. The tubes and the wires can certainly be intimidating but they will come off eventually!


Keep in mind that when others ask questions, they usually mean well. The majority of people are not versed in the NICU like you are. Answer their questions with patience and grace, in the hopes that they will begin to empathize and understand what you’ve been through.

What’s your most frequently asked preemie parent question?
Karee Marsh About Karee Marsh

Karee Marsh (IL) had her first and only child at just 26 weeks gestation due to Incompetent Cervix. He was born 2lbs 7ozs and had a very uneventful albeit long 103-day NICU stay in 2013. In addition to being a stay-at-home mom, Karee helps run her family's honeybee supplier business (son in tow), keeps honeybees herself and has blogged since she was a teenager. Her passions include informing families and friends on how to best support NICU parents, as well as those dealing with Incompetent Cervix issues.


  1. My husband and I were constantly asked when will he go home? (He was in the nicu for 5 months) Now that we are home people keep asking, when will be off the oxygen? And how long will he need his gtube? Both of which we have no satisfying answer so I hate those questions.

  2. Susan Hundley says:

    I am the grandmother to adorable 3 year old 26 week identical twin girls. The most frequently asked question while in the NICU was “why they were born early” and for us the answer was the doctors were not sure. My daughter was measuring 40 weeks, it was her first pregnancy – in fact the twins were born on their first wedding anniversary, but whether or not that caused an early birth we will never know. Now that the twins are healthy 3 year olds, another pregnancy is planned and everyone is asking if this pregnancy will also be an early birth. I know my daughter will be considered high risk, but in all likelihood there will be one baby and she will carry to at least 37 weeks. I cringe every time someone asks about delivering early again, because I know my daughter is already worried and I just want her to enjoy the pregnancy.

  3. “Is she caught up yet?” became a common question as soon as we got home, even though it was still before her due date. Also, “why aren’t you breastfeeding” was common during our transition from expressed milk to bf – it was about a 6 month transition until we totally stopped using bottles.

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