7 dumbest things to say to preemie parents

Learn what to avoid saying, plus what the words you can offer when parents need it the most.


Premature babies, or preemies for short, come out earlier than expected. A baby that’s born before 37 weeks is considered premature. A full-term baby is delivered at 37 to 42 weeks, though babies are usually born at around the 38 or 39 weeks of gestation.

Multiple birth pregnancies tend to have a higher risk of being premature as the womb is too small to accommodate many foetuses, explains SmartParents expert Dr Christopher Chong, an obstetrician and gynaecologist at Gleneagles Hospital.

He notes that as preemies come out of the womb before they can develop fully, some of them will encounter various health problems. He adds, “Premature babies have organs that may not be mature enough to function well, causing breathing and feeding problems. There is a higher risk of learning disorders, infections, jaundice and growth problems as well.”

However, with technological progress, preemies have a higher rate of survival. Dr Chong elaborates, “When the baby has respiratory distress, turns blue, has an infection, or requires drips and monitoring, he will be admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).”

If you really want to know what baby’s condition is, try asking “How is he doing?” instead.

As the parents are probably already worried sick about their premature baby, you should try to be sensitive when you talk to them. Here’ a list of things you should avoid saying!

1. “What did you do to have a premature baby?”

While factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes, infection and placental abruption can contribute to a preterm birth risk, the cause is unknown in many cases. Even if the mum is healthy, followed all her doctor’s instructions and took good care of herself, preterm labour can still happen. She might already be feeling guilty that she wasn’t able to protect her baby inside her womb, so your thoughtless remark that she might have done something wrong to trigger early labour might make her feel worse.

2. “He looks so tiny, like a little alien!”

Yes, most babies look tiny when they first arrive in this world, but especially premature babies as they have had less time to grow in the womb. Obviously, the concerned parents don’t need to be reminded how small and frail their baby looks in the incubator.

3. “What is wrong with him?”

Some preemies face developmental problems, but the majority grow up perfectly fine. Don’t just assume that just because he’s a preemie, he will face health issues. Other than arriving earlier than most of his peers, he’s perfectly well. If you really want to know what baby’s condition is, try asking “How is he doing?” instead.