Study says early birth could affect academic skills
A little more time spent in the womb, allowing for more brain development, could result in a person getting better scores at school, a study has suggested.
Full-term pregnancies are generally between 37 weeks and 41 weeks in length. Babies born before 37 weeks are called premature and are known to face increased chances of health and developmental problems.
The children in the study were all full-term, and the vast majority did fine on third-grade maths and reading tests. The differences were small, but the study found that more kids born at 37 or 38 weeks didn’t do as well as kids born even a week or two later.
The researchers and other experts said the results suggest that the definition of prematurity should be reconsidered. The findings also raise questions about hastening childbirth by scheduling cesarean deliveries for convenience - because women are tired of being pregnant or doctors are busy - rather than for medical reasons.
Women should “at least proceed with caution before electing to have an earlier term birth”, said lead author Dr Kimberly Noble, an assistant paediatrics professor at Columbia University Medical Centre in the United States.
The study involved 128,000 New York City public school children. Of the children born at 37 weeks, 2.3 per cent had severely poor reading skills and 1.1 per cent had at least moderate problems in math. That compares to 1.8 per cent and 0.9 per cent for those born at 41 weeks.
Children born at 38 weeks faced only slightly lower risks than those born at 37 weeks.
Compared with 41-weekers, children born at 37 weeks faced a 33 per cent increased chance of having severe reading difficulty in third grade, and a 19 per cent greater chance of having moderate problems in math.
The research “will cause quite a stir,” said Dr Judy Aschner, a pediatrics professor and neonatology director at Vanderbilt University Medical Centre. “There are still a lot of babies who are being delivered more or less electively at 37 and 38 weeks, with people thinking, ‘This is no big deal - these babies are full-term’. I think this is a big deal.”
However, Aschner said that no one was recommending trying to delay childbirth for women who go into labour at 37 weeks or 38 weeks.
“I don’t want to panic moms whose babies come at 37 weeks,” she added. “But those elective early deliveries really need to stop.”