Preterm babies are the
babies born before 37 weeks of pregnancy. The actual cause of preterm
deliveries is still unknown; however factors such as maternal infections,
inflammatory conditions, bleeding from the uterus, etc. are known to result in
According to an
analysis of data from the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) conducted by the
researchers of the Oxford University, Liverpool, Warwick, Leicester and
National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit, it was found that the babies born just
prior to their term have bad health outcomes as compared to the babies born as
About 18,000 infants
born between 2000 to 2002 in U.K. were examined for the purpose of study. Their
BMI, weight and height measurements were assessed at nine months, three years
and five years.
The parents were asked
to report the number of hospital visits, long illnesses, disabilities or
infirmities, wheezing, any prescribed medicine usage and overall child's health
The study found that health outcomes were worse in premature babies,
including those at moderate/late preterm (32 to 36 weeks) and early term births
(37 to 38 weeks) as compared to full term babies (39 to 41 weeks).
The risk of wheezing and asthma also increased in
babies born between 33 and 36 weeks, which was not observed in full term babies.
A strong connection was found by the study
researches between the risk of bad health outcomes and declining gestation age.
It was also seen that moderate or early term was the strongest and the greatest
disease contributor at the age of 3 years and 5 years.
researchers were of the opinion that it is wrong to categorize the babies only
as term or preterm because the study revealed a "continuum of increasing
risk of adverse outcome with increasing prematurity, even approaching full term
In addition to this, the researchers also discovered that the mothers of
preterm babies (less than 37 weeks) were more likely to be single and less
likely to be educationally qualified or work in managerial positions.
In comparison to women giving birth beyond 37 weeks, the mothers of early
preterm babies generally did not breast fed their babies for more than four
months and even resorted to frequent smoking.
The study thus concluded that the health
outcomes of the preterm babies are inferior to the term babies. This is true
not only for early preterm babies, but also moderate to preterm babies and
those at early term. The researchers
advocated that additional studies are needed to find out the factors affecting
the health status of preterm babies to plan the necessary obstetric
arrangements and delivery of healthcare services to the preterm babies.
1. Effects of
gestational age at birth on health outcomes at 3 and 5 years of age: population
based cohort study; Elaine Boyle et al; BMJ 2012; 344:e896.