Late Preterm Birth May Increase Developmental Risks

Study urges vigilance and early intervention in children born moderately premature

TUESDAY, March 31 (HealthDay News) -- Late preterm infants have an increased risk of development disability compared with healthy full-term infants and should be monitored for early intervention if problems arise, according to a study in the April issue of the journal Pediatrics.

Steven Benjamin Morse, M.D., of the University of Florida in Gainesville, and colleagues analyzed data on 7,152 healthy late preterm infants (34 to 36 weeks' gestational age, length of hospital stay ≤72 hours) and 152,661 healthy full-term infants (37 to 41 weeks) born in Florida in 1996 and 1997. School-age outcomes, such as participation in special programs or delayed kindergarten start or retention, were adjusted for mother and infant variables and analyzed. Risk of disability was assessed using Poisson regression modeling.

The researchers found the risk for a developmental disability or delay was 36 percent higher among late preterm infants compared with infants born at full-term. Risk for delay starting kindergarten was 19 percent higher for late preterm infants. Other outcomes, such as pre-kindergarten disability, special education, and staying back in kindergarten, all carried a 10 percent to 13 percent increased risk among the late preterm children.

"Late preterm infants also need close developmental follow-up despite their initial healthy presentation. Parents, physicians, child development specialists, and education professionals need to be aware of the risks for possible school underachievement and behavioral problems so that prompt referrals to early intervention services are made. Pediatricians can play a crucial role by providing anticipatory guidance," the authors write.

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