A baby born at 32 weeks has a very good chance of surviving and continuing on in life without long-term health problems. Though this is not always the case, most infants suffering a premature delivery after about 32 weeks have a survival rate of 95 percent. So if you are an expectant mother who has just passed the 31 weeks gestation mark, you can typically breathe a sigh of relief and know that, barring an extreme medical crisis, your child will likely be safe by this point.
The Development of a Baby Born at 32 Weeks
Your baby has completed most of the major development. All organs are functioning except the lungs which are the last to mature.
What Your Baby May Look Like
Many mothers wonder "What will my baby look like at 32 weeks?" At this stage of development, your baby is basically a tinier version of a full-term newborn. A baby born at 32 weeks:
- Will weigh roughly 3.5 to 4 pounds.
- Are about 17 inches in length.
- Has fingernails, toenails and hair/peachfuzz.
- No longer has transparent skin. The skin is opaque due to fat accumulating under the skin.
- Is starting to look plump.
- The lanugo (the downy, soft hair that covers the baby's skin) will fall off.
- Can open and close its eyes.
This last stretch of the third trimester of pregnancy will be used for baby's weight gain and the strengthening of internal systems such as the respiratory tract. Babies who are born grievously premature have skin that appears extremely wrinkly because they have missed these essential months of weight gain. By about 32 weeks your baby has just begun the plumping stage and will oftentimes more than double his weight by week 40.
Reassurance for Mom
Due to prior miscarriages or the alarming rate of preterm labor in the United States, it is normal for an expectant mother to suffer anxiety as she travels past critical weeks of gestational development. Ways to reduce anxiety include:
- Regularly checking a calendar of such gestational development like the calendar available online at BabyCenter.com.
- This calendar can help keep mothers informed regarding their infant's growth.
- This calendar can also help keep expectant mothers aware of what symptoms are considered normal during a gestational phase and what symptoms may be indicative of preterm labor.
Misleading Pregnancy Symptoms
By about 32 weeks many women can begin experiencing misleading pregnancy symptoms.
Braxton Hicks Contractions
Braxton Hicks contractions are commonly misleading. They are generally harmless but the number of mothers who rush to the hospital wondering if they are in preterm labor is remarkably high. Braxton Hicks contractions:
- Are small (though they can be extremely distressing) tight contractions that prepare your uterus for labor.
- Will not worsen over time as real contractions do.
- Can be uncomfortable, even painful, but are unlike real labor symptoms. They will continue at the same level of discomfort and typically decrease after a while.
Each mother may have individual experiences with these false labor symptoms, which is why BabyCenter.com has forums where mothers can compare their pregnancy woes. False labor symptoms can be different for everyone and, though most of these symptoms will pan out to nothing serious, it is always recommended that an expectant mother experiencing anything she deems unusual during pregnancy have her condition investigated by a doctor.
When Your Baby Is Born Preterm
When a baby is born at 32 weeks, he or she is considered moderately preterm.
If You Go Into Premature Labor
Signs of premature labor include:
- Contractions (which may be difficult to distinguish from cramping or a backache)
- Leaking of fluid
Since it is difficult to distinguish if it's true labor, your doctor may advise you to slow down, drink water and rest. But if the symptoms persist, it is best to contact your doctor.
What to Expect If You Deliver at 32 Weeks
It is generally safe to deliver a baby at 32 weeks. The baby has a high survival rate and usually doesn't have long-term complications. There are a few things you may experience or complications that may arise after the delivery of a 32-week baby which include:
- The baby being rushed off to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for close monitoring which is not unusual.
- Conditions such as jaundice and low blood sugar are common.
- Complications that can occur for the baby include immature lungs, infection, anemia, intraventricular hemorrhage, inability to maintain body heat and gastrointestinal and digestive systems.
- Low birth weight.
- While some babies are able to begin breast- or bottle-feeding at this time, many will still need a feeding tube and a respirator to aid their natural functions.
- Preemies can sometimes exhibit difficulty with breastfeeding as their coordination may be poor and their inherent "sucking mechanism" is compromised by early birth.
- The need to remain in NICU care for a few weeks or possibly up to his or her original due date.
- If the baby was born prematurely due to a severe medical condition such as preeclampsia and gestational diabetes. Health trauma can be suffered in the womb from these conditions.
- The baby could be at an increased risk for learning disabilities since the last two gestational months appear to be critical for behavioral development.
It is difficult to predict the end result of a child's health, but a medical condition that is closely monitored by your obstetrician will result in less trauma for mother and baby than one which is left neglected until it requires an emergency cesarean.
When Baby Comes Home
When a baby is born at 32 weeks, the chances of survival are excellent but the baby may need some time to develop before he or she is ready to go home from the hospital. The three milestones the baby must reach before he or she can go home include the ability to eat by mouth, breathe without oxygen and maintain body temperature.