Children Born 2-3 Weeks Early Face Increased Risk Of Health Problems
March 4, 2012

Children Born 2-3 Weeks Early Face Increased Risk Of Health Problems

Babies born even a couple of weeks early could face a higher risk of health problems than full-term infants, claims a new study published Thursday on the website of the British Medical Journal (BMJ).

According to Telegraph Medical Correspondent Stephen Adams, the researchers discovered that children born in weeks 37 and 38 were 33% more likely to develop long-term health issues and 15% more likely to develop asthma.

Those findings are based on a study of 18,000 British children between September 2000 and August 2001, and each of the infants received examinations when they were nine months, three years, and five years old, the BMJ said in a press release.

"Health outcomes assessed included height, weight and BMI, whilst parents also reported on number of hospital visits, long-standing illness, disability or infirmity, wheezing, use of prescribed medication and overall rating of child's health," the journal's statement added.

The authors discovered that both moderate to late preterm babies (those born in 32 to 36 weeks) and early term babies (37 to 38 weeks) required re-admission to the hospital within the first few months of their lives than those who went full term (39 to 41 weeks), and according to the BMJ, a "strong correlation" was discovered between decreasing gestation period and the increasing risk of adverse health outcomes.

While previous research in the field had focused on premature babies born before 32 weeks, BBC News reports that this study suggests that those born after that point but before going full term could also require additional medical attention.

Lead researcher Dr. Elaine Boyle of the University of Leicester told Adams that she and her colleagues were "surprised" by the discovery, adding that neonatologists do not routinely follow up with babies born after 32 weeks unless serious health issues arise within the first month after birth. She said that there was a "continuum" where earlier births can lead to increase risk of childhood health issues that lasts all the way until the age of 5.

"I think we need to be aware that there are potentially more problems than we previously believed," Boyle told the Telegraph, adding that these post-32, pre-37 week births could "potentially exert a greater pressure on healthcare services than the most seriously preterm babies" because they occur more regularly.

However, the BBC said that Boyle and the other authors of the study, who represent the Universities of Liverpool, Oxford, Warwick and the National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit, are advising parents that they should not become overly concerned with what the British news agency called a "modest" chance of increased health risks.


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