Babies Born Preterm Perform Less Well on Tests When They Reach First Grade

emory-logoA study by researchers at Emory University in Atlanta finds a direct correlation between pre-term births and lower standardized test scores for these children when they get older. Preterm births are defined as mothers who deliver their babies with less than 37 weeks of gestation.

The study compared results on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test given to first graders in Georgia public schools. The results showed that babies who were preterm were more likely to underperform on the test as first graders.

“Strategies should be implemented to promote maternal academic achievement and full-term gestation,” says Carol Hogue, Terry Professor of Maternal and Child Health at Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health. “This also includes proper education of the consequences of early elective inductions and the importance of addressing known risk factors for preterm birth.”

“Given the fact that the fetal brain grows by nearly one third in the last five weeks of pregnancy, it is not surprising that any injury, such as prematurity, at this stage can lead to neurodevelopmental delays,” explains co-author Lucky Jain, Richard W. Blumberg Professor and executive vice chairman for the Department of Pediatrics at Emory University School of Medicine. “The surprising finding in this study is the extension of these delays into early school age.”

The results are of particular significance to African Americans. More than 17 percent of all African American mothers give birth before completing 37 months gestation. For non-Hispanic whites, only 10 percent of all births are preterm.

Here is a video discussing the results of the study, which was published in the April 2013 edition of the journal Pediatrics.

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