Good news for babies born between the 34th and 37th week of pregnancy: New research shows that when "slightly preterm" babies are born otherwise healthy, they may not be at greater risk of developmental or behavior problems later on in life.
In the study, published in the June 2010 issue of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, researchers tracked over 50 children born at 34 to 36 weeks. Between ages 4 and 15, children were given periodic tests to measure achievement, social skills, behavioral problems, and mental function. According to researcher's findings, none of the tests showed any developmental differences between the late preterm children and a large comparison group of children born at full term.
Babies born before their due dates are known to be at higher risk for breathing and eating difficulties. And some studies have suggested that preterm infants born with these health problems may be more likely to have developmental and social problems as they get older, Dr. Matthew J. Gurka of the University of Virginia School of Medicine in Charlottesville and his colleagues notes in their findings.
"Here, we are not making any claims about all late-preterm infants, as they are definitely at higher risk of health problems, and perhaps these problems lead to later developmental disadvantages," Dr. Gurka tells Reuters Health. "Our study was limited to only those born healthy—hence we can only make generalizations about this subset of late preterm infants."
Dr. Gurka also adds that the study's findings don't mean late preterm infants with early health problems can't be healthy later on, and "neither do these results endorse early elective delivery of babies."