Tips for Dealing With Premature Birth and Speech Delays

Image of a toddler boy wearing a baseball cap
A child shares his day.

Children who have premature birth and speech delays may need some extra help to catch up.

Speech Delays and Premature Babies

If you have a child who was premature, it is common for him to have other delays. However, it does not mean that your child will stay behind forever. Speech delays are common in children, but with early intervention there is a good chance your child will be fine.

The first sign of speech delays are hard to detect. Every child develops at his or her own speed. However, if your child seems to be behind most children his age, be on the safe side and have him checked.

Be Familiar with Common Milestones

It will help you to track your child's progress if you are aware of the speech milestones at each age. Do not forget to add on a few months to compensate for the fact your child was premature.

Birth to 14 Months

From birth to four months expect your child to mostly cry to communicate. In fact, he won't begin babbling until around 4 months, and don't expect to hear any first words until at least 14 months. If your child is younger then two years old and not speaking, you have nothing to worry about.

First Words

Some children will say their first words at about 14 months, though for most parents waiting for this great milestone it occurs between 14 months to 20 months. The first words will be very simple, one word sentences like mama or milk.

Terrible Two's

At the age of two, many children can say two-word sentences. This is the year they will begin to build a vocabulary. By the age of 23 months, most children can use 50 to 70 words. During this year, on track children will also begin using two to three word sentences.

Keep in mind that premature birth and speech delays are common. If your child is not speaking at all by the age of two, have him tested. Early intervention is very important in helping your child develop speech skills.

Other Signs of Speech Delays

Though your child may be speaking, it is not uncommon to have other concerns about his speech, such as clarity or frequency. It is better to err on the cautious side and have him tested. Some common concerns are below.

Troubles Understanding Your Child

This is frustrating for both you and the child who feels he is telling you what he wants. In some cases, a child will stop trying to speak. Many children go through this, so before panicking, ask yourself if there are any words he says that you can decipher.

Some tips for helping your child include:

  • Ask him to show you what he wants, and repeat the word. For example, if he wants milk and is saying "muk," point to some objects and repeat. Once you identify the item, say the correct word in a positive manner, "Oh, you want milk! Good job!"
  • Don't correct your child. Instead, repeat his sentence or request correctly so he can hear how it should sound.

Lack of Vocabulary

In some cases, your child may be behind in the number of words he is speaking. Consult with your doctor for an idea of how many words he should be saying based on how early he was.

Check Baby's Hearing

One of the first things you need to check is your child's hearing. Lack of speech can be a sign of something more. In many cases, it may just be wax build-up or that he requires tubes. A trip to an ear, nose and throat specialist (ENT) will answer many of your concerns.

Language Delay

Baby making signs with hands

In other cases, the speech delay can be a sign of autism, apraxia of speech, articulation disorders, Asperger's Syndrome, genetic inheritance, or other problems. If this is the case, early intervention is always best.


If your child does have a delay, there are many sources of help, including therapists and support groups.

Speech Therapist

A speech therapist is trained to work with your child and help him develop his speech and language skills in the areas he is lacking. In many states this is a free service. Ask your ENT specialist for a recommendation.

Baby Sign Language

Another temporary solution for children who are having trouble communicating is baby sign language. Many classes and programs have developed over the country. This allows your child to communicate with you as early as 6 months to a year.

Read to Your Child

Studies show that reading to your child helps develop language. Nursery rhymes and fairy tales are perfect at this age. The more they hear you speak, the more they pick up. Reading and direct interaction is much more valuable than television.

As a parent, you will always be concerned about your child and his development. Your intuition is a good sign to have him tested out for other problems.


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Tips for Dealing With Premature Birth and Speech Delays