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Early delivery and developmental delays

Late preterm infants face more mental or physical developmental delays and poorer neuro-developmental outcomes than their full-term peers and those delays may affect their school performance.

Early delivery and developmental delays

Late preterm infants face more mental or physical developmental delays and poorer neuro-developmental outcomes than their full-term peers and those delays may affect their school performance.

Late preterm infants - those born between 34 weeks and 37 weeks gestation - are just considered small full-term infants rather than preterm infants (babies delivered before 37 weeks' gestation) and are often perceived at similar risks for morbidity and mortality as term infants. To estimate the risks of mental or physical delays among the preterm infants at age 2, researchers in Boston analysed records from 6,300 term and 1,200 late preterm infants born in America. The study included babies with at least 34 weeks' gestation from wide economic and racial backgrounds who received complete assessments near the age of 2.

In mental skills, late preterm babies were over 52 percent more likely than term infants to suffer severe delays and 43 percent more likely to experience milder limitations. In motor skills, the preterm toddlers faced 56 percent increased odds of severe delays and a 58 percent higher risk of milder ones.

It was also found that the brain of a baby at 34 weeks' gestation weighs 35 percent less than it would at term. Social factors and gender also had a major impact on the children's mental scores, with language spoken at home playing a key role. Boys were most likely to have severe development delays. In contrast, gestational age was the most important contributor to physical delays.

The study had a few limitations including the lack of information on possible newborn medical complications and the possible weaknesses of infant developmental testing. However, the findings are consistent with those of other recent studies of late preterm infants, which reported that late pre-term infants are at a higher risk for respiratory problems, worse academic performance and school suspension down the road.

Very premature infants automatically get referred to early intervention typically including occupational, physical and/or speech therapy. Further research is needed to determine how to best help preterm babies suffering developmental delays reach the same level as their peers carried to term.
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