Although “preterm” and “premature” are used interchangeably to describe infants born before 37 gestational weeks, there are slight differences between the two terms that are well worth noting.
I might not have ever thought twice about it, but back in the NICU, I was talking to one of our clinicians and tried reaching for a word to describe, you know, babies who aren’t premature, you know, the eight-nine percent. It was on the tip of my tongue to say “regular babies,” but I couldn’t quite bring myself to say it. “Mature babies” didn’t sound right either, because it sounded like a value judgement. The neonatologist sensed my mental hiccup, and gently suggested I use the term “term” to describe babies who were carried fully to term, and “preterm” to describe infants who were delivered a little bit (or a lot of a bit) early.
Since then, I’ve come to favor the word “preterm” as opposed to “premature” when I write about the topic, but I will still use “premature” for random strangers at the mall. That’s why I thought it might be helpful to note the differences between the two words and their usage. Continue reading