Academic Difficulties For Early Normal Term Babies
July 4, 2012

Academic Difficulties For Early Normal Term Babies

Connie K. Ho for — Your Universe Online

It is already known that premature babies at risk for slower brain development. In relation to early birth, scientists recently found that infants that are born with a few extra weeks in the womb, even at “normal term” between 37 to 41 weeks, may have certain benefits.

Researchers stated in a recent issue of the journal Pediatrics that children who are born on the shorter range of full term appear to score lower on verbal and math exams as compared to other eight-year-olds born later. The differences among the two were slight.

"Certainly the vast majority of 37-weekers and 41-weekers would end up developing typically," Kimberly Noble, the lead author on the study from Columbia University Medical Center and New York-Presbyterian Hospital, told Reuters Health.

In the study, the researchers looked at 128,000 children born in New York in the late 1980s and early 1990s. They compared birth records and third-grade standardized scores of these children who attended public schools in the city. All of the students were born between 37 and 41 weeks gestation. 15 percent of the children were born in C-section operations and these operations can cause developmental delays. The researchers also calculated risks factors such as lack of prenatal care, low birth weight, neighborhood poverty, and smoking during pregnancy. These various things could add to possible academic challenges for students.

“That would not be a difference that would likely be noticeable from one child to the next," explained Noble in the Reuters Health article. "Where it is more noticeable is on the lower end of the (test score) distribution."

In general, students born at 41 weeks scored approximately one point higher on math and reading exams than students who were born at 37 weeks; this amounted to about a 1.5 point difference on an IQ test.

"These outcomes are critical and predict future academic achievement," said Naomi Breslau, a Michigan State University professor who studies the connection between IQ and gestatation period, in an MSNBC article.

With these results, the scientists believe that the finding doesn´t necessarily prove that those born early-term will have slower brain development or demonstrate lower academic achievement; there are other possible factors that may relate to early births and academic issues.

"Even if it's an early term delivery, there may have been something going on that led to that child being born earlier in the process than later," remarked Marie McCormick, a maternal and child health researcher from the Harvard School of Public Health, in the Reuters Health article.

However, the findings are still similar to those found in previous research studies that propose that babies born around 37 or 38 weeks may showcase differences than those who are born later.

"The main thing is ... when you're coming to the discussion about delivery and if you have a decision about the timing of that delivery, to really make sure that you're as far along in pregnancy as you can get without getting out of the range of normal," noted McCormick in the Reuters Health article.

The researchers believe that the findings shouldn´t be alarming for expectant mothers; rather, the study should be used by women when considering how their children should be born and can come in play in situations like scheduling a cesarean section.

“I don´t want to panic mums whose babies come at 37 weeks, but those elective early deliveries really need to stop,” commented Judy Aschner, a pediatrics professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, in a Telegraph article.