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Merck Manual

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Physical Features of a Premature Newborn

Physical Features of a Premature Newborn

  • Small size

  • Large head relative to rest of the body

  • Little fat under the skin

  • Thin, shiny, pink skin

  • Veins visible beneath the skin

  • Few creases on soles of feet

  • Scant hair

  • Soft ears, with little cartilage

  • Underdeveloped breast tissue

  • Boys: Small scrotum with few folds; testes may be undescended in very premature newborns

  • Girls: Labia majora (large lips) not yet covering labia minora (small lips) of the genitals

  • Rapid breathing with brief pauses (periodic breathing), apnea spells (pauses lasting longer than 20 seconds), or both

  • Weak, poorly coordinated sucking and swallowing reflexes

  • Reduced physical activity and muscle tone (a premature newborn tends not to draw up the arms and legs when at rest as does a full-term newborn)

  • Sleeping for most of the time