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Babies born even a few weeks early face increased health risks - study

Researchers say new evidence challenges perceptions about the health prospects for babies born early – and even infants born at what has traditionally been regarded “full term”.

Image: Katie Collins/PA Wire/Press Association Images

BABIES BORN EVEN just a few weeks early face a higher risk of respiratory and gastrointestinal disorders, according to a newly published study.

The impact on health is worse the earlier a child is born, although problems were also observed in infants born at what is commonly considered full term (37 – 38 weeks).

The study, which collected data on more than 14,000 children born in the UK, found that the earlier a child was born, the more likely they were to suffer from asthma, wheezing, a long-standing illness or have low weight or slow growth. They were also more likely to be admitted to hospital within the first nine months of their lives because of respiratory or gastrointestinal complaints.

The children were first assessed at nine months and then again when they were aged three and five.

The researchers from the University of Leicester and the National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit at Oxford University said that the results “challenged widely held views” that long-term health outcomes for moderate and late pre-term babies (32 – 36 weeks) are similar to those for babies born at full term.

They added that although many previous studies have focused on premature babies, who have a greater risk of illness or death, the results also challenge perceptions about outcomes for babies born during part of the period of gestation that has traditionally been regarded as full term (37 – 38 weeks).

“Our study casts doubt on these perceptions and highlights differences between these babies, now more appropriately classed as early term, and those born just one or two weeks later,” the team said.

The study found that babies born at 37 to 38 weeks were 10 percent more likely to suffer from asthma, wheezing or a long-standing illness than those born at 39 to 41 weeks.

The study was published online in the British Medical Journal

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