Premature birth can affect children’s development in later life. IGNACIO CAMPO VIA UNSPLASH. 
Premature birth can affect children’s development in later life. IGNACIO CAMPO VIA UNSPLASH. 

Premature birth can affect children’s development in later life. IGNACIO CAMPO VIA UNSPLASH. 

By Isobel Williams

Being born early can have long term risks for children’s development, affecting their behavior and ability to learn, a new study has found.


It leaves them more likely to develop conditions such as epilepsy, autism or ADHD. The 13 year study following more than a million births, shows that children born moderately (32-33 weeks) or late preterm (34-36 weeks) have higher long-term risks of neurodevelopmental difficulties.


These are defined as disorders that influence how the brain functions, such as autism, ADHD, and cerebral palsy. As children born in these windows make up about 80 percent of all preterm births, the researchers warn that these risks should not be underestimated.


To get their results, published in The BMJ, the team studied 1,281,690 children without birth defects born in Sweden at 32 to 41 weeks between 1998 and 2012.


They then looked at a sub-group of 349,108 full siblings to control for unmeasured shared genetic and environmental factors. The main outcomes of interest were movement, brain, epileptic, hearing, and visual impairments, and a combination of any neurodevelopmental impairment, diagnosed up to age 16 years.


Overall, compared with children born full term, those born moderately or late preterm showed higher risks for any impairment. They found that, during an average follow-up period of 13 years, 75,311 infants had at least one diagnosis of any neurodevelopmental impairment.


They also discovered that some 5,899 had motor impairment, 27,371 cognitive impairment, 11,870 epileptic impairment, 19,700 visual impairment, and 20,393 hearing impairment.


The highest relative risk for children born moderately preterm compared with those born full term was for motor impairment, a nearly five-fold increased risk, followed by epileptic impairment, a nearly two-fold increased risk.


“Children born moderately or late preterm have higher risks of adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes. The risks should not be underestimated as these children comprise the largest proportion of children born preterm,” said associate professor Ruoqing Chen from Sun Yat-sen University, China.


“The findings may help professionals and families to better assess risk, follow-up, and healthcare systems planning for children born moderately or late preterm,” she added.


Babies that are prematurely born may have issues for the rest of their life. Certain issues might not manifest for a number of years, or perhaps until maturity. Babies can have longer, healthier lives if health issues are identified and treated as soon as possible, with the goal of preventing premature delivery wherever feasible.

Produced in association with SWNS Talker