A review of research on preterm babies reveals that super-early preemies (those born between the 22 and 25 weeks gestation) face significant health risks years later. Compared with full-term babies, these preemies had increased risk of neurological problems at 4 to 8 years of age. Care of premature infants continues to improve, but this review points to the importance of trying to keep babies in the womb as long as possible, TIME.com reports.
It's not the first hint that preemies are at higher risk of health issues for being born before their development was completed. Some recent studies showed, for example, that babies who were born earlier had poorer test scores in reading and math compared with those born full term. A study published in 2011 that analyzed the long-term effects of premature birth on cognitive abilities such as memory and attention span in early adulthood revealed that people who were born extremely premature performed worse on executive function tests and took longer to complete higher-order intellectual tasks. As adults, these individuals also scored an average of 8.4 points lower on IQ assessments compared with people who were born at full term.
The fact that the effects of premature birth last into adulthood is concerning, since they are not only at a disadvantage in some cognitive functions, they even have a reportedly higher risk of death in early adulthood as well. Advancements in care of premature babies have undoubtedly improved, but lessening their health risks is still a task at hand. In 2012, a team of researchers from the University College London Institute for Women's Health reported that death rates and health problems among extremely preterm babies has remained unchanged for decades.
While the parents of preemies may find this news less-than-reassuring, this research can help children by giving "parents and clinicians a heads-up for what to look out for during development," TIME.com says.
Image: Premature baby's foot, via Shutterstock