The most common breathing problem among the late preterm infants was respiratory distress syndrome, a severe lung disease of newborns. This affected 390 (10.5 percent) of those born at 34 weeks and 140 (0.3 percent) of those born at 38 weeks, Hibbard's group found.
The next most common problem was rapid breathing, called transient tachypnea, which affected 236 (6.4 percent) of babies born at 34 weeks and 207 (0.4 percent) of those born at 39 weeks.
Cases of pneumonia also decreased the closer to full term babies were born, dropping from 1.5 percent at 34 weeks to 0.1 percent at 39 weeks, the researchers found.
This was also the case for respiratory failure, which dropped from 1.6 percent among infants born preterm to 0.09 percent for infants born at 40 weeks.
For infants born at 34 weeks, the risk of developing respiratory distress syndrome rose 40-fold, but decreased sharply as the delivery neared full term, Hibbard's group says.
However, "even at 37 weeks, the odds of respiratory distress syndrome were still threefold greater than that of a 39- or 40-week birth. Similar patterns were seen for transient tachypnea of the newborn, pneumonia, standard or high-frequency ventilator requirements, and respiratory failure," the researchers wrote.
Commenting on the study, Dr. Eduardo Bancalari, director of the division of neonatology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, said that, "this is not surprising. The right time to be born is at 40 weeks and anytime before that the risk increases."
He believes there's been a huge amount of focus on infants born very early, but "people have forgotten that even a 36- or 37-[week] gestational delivery is also at higher risk."
Bancalari stressed that some infants do need to be delivered preterm, if there are medical issues with the mother or the baby. "But at the same time, th
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