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Delivery Even a Bit Early May Mean Developmental Delays
Date:2/17/2011

By Maureen Salamon
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Feb. 17 (HealthDay News) -- Bucking the notion that being born a few weeks early has no discernible impact on babies, a new study indicates that "late preterm" infants face more developmental delays than their full-term peers and those delays may affect their school performance.

Researchers in Boston analyzed records from 6,300 term and 1,200 late preterm infants -- those born between 34 weeks and 37 weeks gestation -- from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Birth Cohort, using equations to estimate the odds of mental or physical delays among the preterm set at the age of 2.

In mental skills, late preterm babies were 52 percent more likely than term infants to suffer severe delays and 43 percent more likely to experience milder limitations. In motor skills, the preterm toddlers faced 56 percent increased odds of severe delays and a 58 percent increased risk of milder ones.

The study is reported online Feb. 14 in the journal Pediatrics.

"Previously, these infants were just considered small full-term infants rather than preterm infants," said study author Dr. Melissa A. Woythaler, a neonatologist at Massachusetts General Hospital. "There's been a shift in how they're viewed."

Preterm births -- those in which babies are delivered before 37 weeks' gestation -- account for nearly 13 percent of the nation's 4.2 million annual births, according to the study. Late preterm births have risen 25 percent since 1990, from about 7 percent to 9 percent of all births.

In addition, 5 percent to 40 percent of U.S. births are now early elective deliveries, meaning that births are induced preterm without a valid medical reason, according to a recent hospital-by-hospital report from the Leapfrog Group, a national employer-driven hospital watchdog group.

Noting that many of these at-risk infants receive little or no specialized developmental follow-u
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