Children Born Preterm Face Higher Risk of Neurodevelopmental Problems: Study

The findings of a new study suggest premature babies face an increased risk of experiencing moderate and severe neurodevelopmental problems.

French researchers indicate the risks increase the earlier a preterm child is born, according to a report published late last month in the medical journal The BMJ.

Preterm birth has long been linked to developmental problems. In most cases, those deficits are defined after the child reached two years old, when they begin speaking and developing other behavioral and cognitive processes which can be measured. However, while the survival of children born in extremely preterm births has improved, the ability to prevent developmental difficulties has not, and researchers indicate that the long-term outcomes for children have not improved.

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In this study, researchers sought to better map out how developmental difficulties were tied to preterm birth. To begin, they defined various categories of preterm births, such as extremely preterm (24-26 weeks), very preterm (27-31 weeks) or moderately (32-34) preterm.

The researchers conducted a prospective national population-based cohort of preterm born children in France, looking at all births at 22 to 34 weeks’ gestation in all maternity units nationwide in 2011. The researchers ultimately assessed 3,083 children who were age five and a half and born preterm.

Children underwent motor function, hearing and vision tests, cognitive tests, and behavior tests. The children were also tested on education, and parents were asked if the child received any outside aid from school and what concerns the parents had.

According to the data, the rate of moderate to severe neurodevelopmental problems remained high in each preterm group. Children born extremely preterm (24-26 weeks) were at 28% greater risk of developing moderate or severe disabilities than children carried to full term, followed by very preterm (27-31 weeks) at 19%, and moderately preterm (32-34) at 12%. Regarding mild disabilities, extremely preterm children faced a 38.5% higher risk, very preterm faced a 36% higher risk, and moderately preterm children faced a 34% increased risk.

The study also noted that while rates of neurodevelopment disabilities increased as preterm age decreased, they were higher in families with low socioeconomic status. The socioeconomic status affects healthcare and educational decisions for the child, especially when the child needs more aid.

“Although the rates of severe/moderate neurodevelopmental disabilities decreased with increasing gestational age, around 35% of the moderately to extremely preterm born children had mild disabilities,” the researchers concluded. “These children often used special care or educational services. A considerable proportion of parents had concerns about their child’s development, particularly about behaviour. These concerns warrant attention.”


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