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 preterm births.
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 term babies.
AdvertisementAbout 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 rating.
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.
The 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 gestation."
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.
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