Being born even slightly premature might still raise a child's risk of developmental problems, a new study finds.
Preemies often have developmental issues, but previous research has tended to focus on those born extremely preterm (22-26 weeks' gestation), so less is known about children born moderately and very preterm (27-34 weeks' gestation). Average full-term gestation time is 39-40 weeks.
To learn more, researchers looked at more than 3,000 children over age 5 in France who were born after 24-26, 27-31 and 32-34 weeks of gestation and compared them to a group of 600 children born at full term.
After adjusting for other factors, the researchers determined that the earlier the children were born, the higher their rates of neurodevelopmental disabilities such as cerebral palsy, blindness and deafness, and lower brain function.
Assistance at school was used by 27%, 14% and 7% of children born at 24-26, 27-31 and 32-34 weeks, respectively. About half of children born at 24-26 weeks received at least one developmental intervention, compared with about a quarter (26%) of those born at 32-34 weeks.
Behavior was the concern most commonly reported by parents of children in the study, according to the findings published April 28 in the BMJ. It also found that rates of neurodevelopmental disabilities were higher in poorer families.
This is an observational study, so it can't establish cause, noted study author Véronique Pierrat, from Tenon Hospital, Equipe EPOPé, in Paris.
But the findings show that preterm birth "continues to pose a large burden for families, health care and educational systems," Pierrat and colleagues said in a journal news release.
They also pointed out that while rates of moderate to severe neurodevelopmental disabilities decreased with increasing gestational age, about 35% of the moderately to extremely preterm born children had mild disabilities requiring special care or educational services.
Many parents expressed concerns about their child's development, especially behavior. The researchers concluded that difficulties "faced by these groups of children and their families should not be underestimated."
The March of Dimes has more on premature babies.
SOURCE: BMJ, news release, April 28, 2021