Prematurity has long been known to raise the risk of developmental problems in children.
New research (AAP, 2014), however, shows that even babies born between 34 and 36 weeks gestation (known as late preterm) have a higher risk of learning, social, and behavioral challenges. Using MRI scans and cognitive testing, these researchers found that when compared to children born full term, children born late preterm had differences in their cognitive function and brain structures.
Specifically, these children had slower processing speed, and difficulties with aspects of visual processing and memory. Parents of children born late preterm also report more issues with hyperactivity, focus and attention, aggression, and defiant behavior as compared to children born full term. These differences in cognitive function, behavioral regulation, and brain structure can have consequences for a child’s functioning throughout their lifespan.
Given that 8 percent of births each year in the United States are late preterm births, it is important to understand the risks associated when a baby is born even a few weeks early. The development of these children should be closely monitored so that intervention can occur as soon as any need arises. This research helps us understand the role that even slight prematurity can have on a child long term, and care should be taken to identify and address these potential problems as soon as possible.
In my clinic, we see many children who have a history of either premature or late preterm birth.
Parents often wonder why their children have challenges, especially in cases where there is no family history. This research indicates that being born even a few weeks early can have a significant impact on child development. Parents should bring any concerns to the attention of their child’s physician, teacher, and other appropriate professionals as soon as they become evident.
Early identification of these challenges allows them to be addressed so as to minimize long-term problems for the child.
American Academy of Pediatrics. (2014, May 5). Being born 4-6 weeks premature can affect brain structure, function. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 10, 2014 from Science Daily