Date Published: 2 March 2012
Babies born a few weeks early have worse health outcomes than full-term babies, according to medical researchers
Recent research has revealed that UK babies born just a few weeks early have worse health than full-term babies.
Professor Dieter Wolke of Warwick University (Warwickshire, England) and a team of other medical researchers from the Leicester, Liverpool and Oxford Universities together with the National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit studied more than 18,000 British babies born between September 2000 and August 2001. Health outcomes were studies when the infants reached nine months, three years and five years.
Health outcomes assessed included:
- weight, and
Parents also reported on:
- number of hospital visits
- long-standing illness
- disability or infirmity
- use of prescribed medication, and
- overall rating of child's health.
The authors report that both moderate / late preterm (32-36 weeks) and early term (37-38 weeks) babies required re-admission to hospital in the first few months more often than full term babies (39-41 weeks). Those born between 33 and 36 weeks had an increased risk of asthma and wheezing compared to full term babies.
A strong correlation was found between decreasing gestation and increasing risk of poor health outcomes. The greatest contribution to disease at the age of both three and five was being born moderate / late preterm or early term.
Study also revealed that mothers of children born at less than 37 weeks were more likely to be single and less likely to have educational qualifications or work in managerial positions. Mothers of very preterm babies were more likely to smoke and less likely to breast feed for four or more months than those delivered at or beyond 37 weeks.
Professor Wolke said:
" Most interest in recent years has focussed on very preterm children. However, many more children are born moderate or late preterm. Although the problems are smaller, many more of these children are affected by health problems and may need careful monitoring. The findings have important implications for obstetrics and after care of these children."
The authors of this recent report concluded that it is inappropriate simply to group babies as preterm or term because the study demonstrates a "continuum of increasing risk of adverse outcome with increasing prematurity, even approaching full term gestation". They argue that further explanation of factors that influence health outcomes for babies born during this gestation period (32-38 weeks) is needed to confirm their findings and subsequently improve the provision of obstetric services and planning and delivery of healthcare services for children in early life.
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Source: Warwick University, England (UK).