Babies born before 36 weeks perform worse at school

Monday, 12 December 2011 11:54 AM

A UK study has found that babies born between 32 and 36 weeks are less successful at school at the age of seven, than those who those who make full term.

Only 71 per cent of babies born between 32 and 36 weeks are successful in key stage 1 (KS1) tests in reading, writing and maths, compared to 79 per cent of babies born at full term (37-41 weeks).

Babies born between 32 and 36 weeks make up 82 per cent of all premature births and six per cent of all live births in the UK and are generally considered to be in the ‘safe zone’ of premature births.

But this vulnerable group requires closer attention to ensure they receive adequate educational support, according to researchers from Children of the 90s at the University of Bristol, whose findings are published online in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood.

Analysing data from 13,978 infants in Children of the 90s, the researchers found that the five per cent of babies born at 32-36 weeks fared less well in KS1 tests compared to the 86 per cent of babies born at term.

Previous research has shown that premature babies are more at risk of developmental delay, cerebral palsy and learning difficulties but little has been known until now about how well late-preterm babies in the UK fare at school compared to babies born at full term.

Of the 734 late-preterm infants in the study, the majority were from a white ethnic background, had lower birth weights and lengths, and were more likely to be male (57 per cent compared to 51 per cent of babies born at full term).

Additionally the late-preterm babies were more likely to be from a multiple pregnancy and born by Caesarean section. Mothers of late-preterm infants tended to have fewer qualifications and lower incomes.

The findings of this study add to an emerging evidence base of poor long-term neurological and developmental outcomes among children born late-preterm.

Dr Philip Peacock said: “Given that children born late-preterm make up the majority of all preterm births, and comprise around six per cent of the population, this group warrants more recognition and surveillance than is currently provided.”

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