Babies who are born late preterm—between 34 and 37 weeks gestation—will look like smaller versions of babies born full term. Until recently, babies born late preterm were treated just like babies born full term. However, research has begun to indicate that late preterm babies are not exactly the same as full term babies. A baby born at 36 weeks will have his own unique sets of challenges and needs.
Development of a Baby Born at 36 Weeks
A baby born this time around would be considered to be moderately premature. His/her chances of survival would be very good, though some extra care would probably be needed.
If your baby were to be born at 36 weeks, she will likely be between 17.5 and 19 inches (44.5 to 48.3 centimeters) long and weigh between 5.75 and 6.75 pounds (2.6 and 3.1 kilograms).
The fine, downy hair (called lanugo) that covered your baby’s skin in the womb has begun to disappear, as has her vernix caseosa—the thick, waxy substance that protected your baby’s skin while she was surrounded by amniotic fluid. Your baby will inevitably swallow both some lanugo and vernix caseosa and some amniotic fluid as well. These will all combine to form a substance called meconium, which will eventually constitute your baby’s first bowel movement.
By the 36th or 37th week of gestation, most babies have achieved lung maturity. The 36th week of gestation sits on the center of the lung maturity bell curve—half of the babies will have achieved lung maturity at this point, while the lungs of the other half will not mature until later.
At 36 weeks, a baby’s blood circulation and immune system have been developing for months and are finally ready for the outside world. The baby’s digestive system is not quite ready yet, however—your baby will not be able to eat solid foods for a few months to come.
Health Concerns for a Baby Born at 36 Weeks
Immediate Health Concerns
- Poor thermo regulation. Since preterm babies don’t have as much stored fat as full term babies do, they tend to get cold more easily. They burn calories trying to stay warm, slowing weight gain and making them even more prone to hypoglycemia.
- Hypoglycemia. Only 0.4% of all babies suffer from hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) in the first few hours after birth; however, 6.8% of preterm babies have hypoglycemia hours following their delivery. Preterm babies have not been able to store as much sugar as full term babies; thus, their blood sugar levels drop when they become cold or stressed.
- Respiratory problems. 0.1% of babies born full term will experience respiratory problems; however, this number increases to 4.2% when it comes to babies born moderately preterm. Respiratory problems can be either mild or severe—they can include pulmonary hypertension, transient tachypnea of the newborn, respiratory distress syndrome, and may require respiratory support.
Concerns in the First Few Weeks
- Sepsis (Infection). Because the immune systems of moderately premature babies are not completely developed, these infants are more at risk of infection than full term babies are. Moderately premature babies are more likely to need to have blood drawn in order to test for infection; they are also more likely to require treatment with antibiotics.
- Jaundice. Only 2.5% of full term babies have jaundice that’s serious enough to require phototherapy, whereas 18% of late preterm babies require treatment for jaundice.
- Feeding Issues. Babies born moderately premature tend to get tired easily; thus, they may not be strong enough to drink formula or breastmilk in order to gain weight. Not drinking enough milk can lead to dehydration. They are also at risk of breastfeeding failure, which may cause their mothers to begin producing less milk and therefore being unable to feed their babies at a later stage.
Caring for a Baby Born at 36 Weeks
Though your baby’s placement in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) is essential to his/her survival, you may find the experience heart-wrenching. You will, of course, be worried about her health, but you may also feel as though you are missing out on the experience of holding, breastfeeding, and generally bonding with your baby in the hours after delivery.
Caring and Holding
In order to best deal with the stress of this experience, spend as much time with your baby in the NICU as her condition (and yours) allows. Even if you’re not able to hold him/her, try to touch your baby as often as you possibly can. Many NICUs will allow parents to do skin-to-skin care for their babies once it’s become clear that your baby does not require any major support for his/her organs. As soon as you’re given the go-ahead from your doctor, begin to gently touch, cradle, and hold your newborn baby.
As soon as your doctor tells you it’s okay, you can begin to feed your baby born at 36 weeks. Your nurses will tell you everything you need to know about breast or bottle feeding techniques, depending on your baby’s needs.
Some babies born premature may require intravenous fluids, or fluids delivered through a feeding tube that goes from their nose or mouth into their stomachs. Nevertheless, your breast milk offers your baby the best possible nutrition, as it provides him/her with antibodies and other substances to enhance the immune system and help ward off infection.
Sometimes, you may find it difficult to nurse premature babies at breasts. If this is the case, you may try pumping your breast milk into a bottle or tube for easier feeding. Once your baby is able to breastfeed directly, encourage your baby to nurse frequently, as this will increase your supply of milk.
Once your baby is breathing on his/her own, maintaining an appropriate body temperature, gaining weight steadily, and feeding at your breast or with a bottle, he/she is ready to come home!
What Is It Like to Have A Baby Born at 36 Weeks?
- I gave birth to my son at exact 36 weeks. He weighted 4lbs 13oz and spent 10 days in the NICU due to episodes of apnea. Today, he is a happy, healthy 7 months old!
- My son was born naturally at 36 weeks. At birth, he weighed 6lbs 1oz. At first, he had a little trouble maintaining oxygen levels, but he was discharged quickly and he went home, where he was just fine for a week. Then, he was admitted back into the hospital due to low oxygen levels. For the past 12 weeks he’s been on a small amount of oxygen at home and he’s been doing wonderfully.
- My daughter was a 36 weeker. She weighed 6lbs 13oz and only had to spend a few hours in the NICU due to hypoglycemia. During the first few days she also experienced sucking issues and had some trouble regulating her temperature, but she’s fine now!
Have a look at some photos of babies born at 36 weeks: