Being born just a couple of weeks early may influence a
child's long-term education and job prospects, hints a new study from Finland.
Researchers found that infants born "late preterm”
between 34 and 36 weeks were more likely to be manual workers and earned less
money as adults than their peers who were born on time.
Past studies have suggested children born slightly early
have more behavioural and emotional problems and don't do as well academically,
Katri Räikkönen from the University of Helsinki and her colleagues
noted."It could be part of a whole lifelong process," Nancy Reichman,
who has studied premature babies' development at Rutgers University-Robert Wood
Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick, New Jersey, said.
The new study, she told Reuters Health, is "consistent
with the story that late preterm birth results in infants having health
disadvantages at birth that translate to school age that possibly translate to
later health and socioeconomic status. "However, researchers can't be sure
being born early is directly responsible for those long-term outcomes, said
Reichman, who wasn't involved in the new research.
It's possible that other factors affecting the child's
health and development also account for early birth. For instance, parents who
are less well-off may be more likely to have a child born early, she said.
For their study, Räikkönen and her colleagues used a
nationwide database of occupations, incomes and educational records to track 9 000
people born at one of two Helsinki hospitals in the 1930s and 1940s. About 500
of them were born slightly premature.
The rest were born on time, at 37 to 41 weeks. The
researchers followed those people until they were in their 50s and 60s,
accounting for gender and the family's socioeconomic status while the child was
They found that kids who were born slightly early were 65%
more likely to grow up to be manual workers, rather than clerical workers, than
those born on time. Likewise, they were 31% more likely to only have a basic or
secondary school education and 33% more likely to be in the lowest income
bracket in middle-age.
Children born early also ended up more often in a
lower-status occupation than their fathers, known as being "downwardly
mobile", the researchers reported in Paediatrics. Because the brain
continues to develop throughout pregnancy, Räikkönen's team said kids who miss
out on a couple of weeks in the womb may be at a disadvantage in school and
later in life. The researchers did not respond to requests for comment before
More intensive care
In another study published Monday in JAMA Paediatrics,
researchers led by Dr Shaon Sengupta of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
found babies born at 37 to 38 weeks needed more intensive care just after birth
than those born at 39 to 41 weeks.
Much of the concern for premature babies is around those
born very early, such as at 24 to 30 weeks, Dr Henry Lee, of the Division of
Neonatal & Developmental Medicine at Stanford University and Lucile Packard
Children's Hospital in California, said.
That's because those babies are at high risk of
complications, including death, as soon as they're born. "For those who are
what we consider late preterm, like 34 to 36 weeks, there traditionally has
been a little less concern because many times those babies seem to do
well," Lee, who didn't participate in the new research, told Reuters
However, he said, "What we're learning more and more
these days is these late preterm (babies) are also going to be at higher risk
for not only initial medical complications but potential long-term difficulties
Both parents and paediatricians can watch those children
extra closely as they grow up, Lee said, to make sure kids start getting extra
help early on if they fall behind. However, he added, many children born a
couple of weeks early won't have any long-term problems.