Pre-term babies at higher risk of developmental delay than previously thought: study.

By Claire Slattery

Moderate to late pre-term babies experience higher rates of developmental delay than their full-term counterparts, a new study has found.

Of the 7 per cent of babies who are born premature in Australia every year, 80 per cent — or 21,000 — are born between 32 and 36 weeks.

Melbourne physiotherapist Sarah Logie’s son Elliot was born two months early, after she was diagnosed with a life-threatening pregnancy complication.

Ms Logie said her son was now a happy eight-month-old.

“He’s doing really well, he’s putting on lots of weight, so he’s definitely getting up there in terms of size,” she said.

“He’s rolling and he’s making noises — to us he seems to be like a normal little boy.”

But like other premature babies, Elliot has been later to develop than his peers who were born full term at 37 or more weeks’ gestation.

“When I’m around other people with babies I think, ‘Oh, maybe he’s a little bit slower’.

“But in the back of the mind you have to think he was born two months earlier than everybody else, so he had two months less time inside to develop inside,” Ms Logie said.

“So I kind of expect there to be a little bit of a delay.”

It is babies like Elliot that have been the focus of a new study at Melbourne’s Royal Women’s Hospital, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Pediatrics.

The La Prem study examined 200 moderate to late pre-term babies at birth and then again at two years old.

Associate Professor Jeanie Cheong led the research and said developmental delay varied between children.

“Particularly for language development, moderate to late pre-term children were three times at increased risk of delay compared with term peers and about twice that for cognitive and physical development,” she said.

“Perhaps we are seeing a continuum for prematurity in that even being born just a little bit early is enough to have some delay in development.”

No cause for alarm: doctor

Dr Cheong said the results have implications for health professionals and educators.


“What we need to understand are risk factors that may give us some idea of babies who are at highest risk so that we can look at them carefully as they grow up and hopefully slot them into early intervention programs,” she said.

According to Dr Cheong, the findings should not be cause for alarm.

“Not every child born at 32 to 36 weeks has problems,” she said.

“What I hope would be the message to parents would be to recognise that this is a potential risk factor.

“If their children are having problems at school and happen to have been born early, that may be one of the reasons explaining that.”

Dr Cheong said some parents have found that to be very reassuring.

“It’s taken a load off their shoulders that perhaps some of the challenges faced by children at school were related to how early they were born,” she said.

This post originally appeared on ABC News.

© 2017 Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved. Read the ABC Disclaimer here