Lasting Effects of Being Born Too Early

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For the first time, researchers document why it’s so important to help premature babies develop in utero for as long as possible.

In a review of nine studies of extremely premature babies, born between 22 and 25 weeks of gestation, researchers found that compared with babies born at full term, premature infants had a significantly increased risk of developing neurological impairments when they were 4 to 8 years old.

It’s not the first hint that preemies are at higher risk of health issues for being born before their development was completed. Some recent studies showed, for example, that babies who were born earlier had poorer test scores in reading and math compared with those born full term. A study published in 2011 that analyzed the long-term effects of premature birth on cognitive abilities such as memory and attention span in early adulthood revealed that people who were born extremely premature performed worse on executive function tests and took longer to complete higher-order intellectual tasks. As adults, these individuals also scored an average of 8.4 points lower on IQ assessments compared with people who were born at full term.

(MORE: Extremely Premature Babies Still at Risk of Health Issues as Youngsters)

The fact that the effects of premature birth last into adulthood is concerning, since they are not only at a disadvantage in some cognitive functions, they even have a reportedly higher risk of death in early adulthood as well. Advancements in care of premature babies have undoubtedly improved, but lessening their health risks is still a task at hand. In 2012, a team of researchers from the University College London Institute for Women’s Health reported that death rates and health problems among extremely preterm babies has remained unchanged for decades.

“We didn’t expect to see rates disappear,” study author Neil Marlow, professor of neonatal science at the University College London Institute for Women’s Health, told TIME. “We wanted to determine a more global picture of extreme preterm survival and later problems. Since 1995, we’ve done a lot of things that could change these outcomes … But things are relatively unchanged. There are improvements in survival and survival without disability, but rates and distributions of problems are similar.”

But can all the studies of adverse health effects translate into constructive momentum? There’s no doubt the onslaught of continuous news of bad outcomes isn’t comforting to parents of children born before their time. But there are certain things to remember. Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental-and-behavioral pediatrics at Steven & Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York, says parents should keep in mind that significant medical advancement is typically made by the time a study is published.

(MORE: How Long Do the Effects of Being Born Premature Last? Until Adulthood)

Studies looking at participants born 20 years ago, or even five years ago, will not necessarily be looking at the most up-to-date clinical practice. But the research does lay out the risks for these children, and it gives parents and clinicians a heads-up for what to look out for during development. “[The studies] do provide us with a sense for what the greatest risk factors are for newborns, whether it be lung disease, bleeding in the brain, severe infection. It allows clinicians to treat those risk factors,” he says.

Understanding potential outcomes and risk factors also help researchers identify and explore preventative strategies, so the most common and harmful risks are taken care of.

49 comments
thirteen
thirteen

When I was pregnant, I read a book about how to have a smarter baby. One chapter of this book tells that if a baby is premature, a mother is encouraged to always hold their premature baby close to their chest ( to a baby the sound of their mother's heartbeat is the most soothing sound in the world, because while they were inside their mother's womb, this was the loudest sound that they hear) and rock them back and forth and side to side. This action helps the baby's brain develop faster. Lightly stroking the child's head starting from the forehead to back also helps.

What I'm trying to say is that if you were born premature but you grew up normal and even smarter than those who were born full term, you should be very thankful and appreciate your mothers  for the extra love and efforts  that they have provided for you during those crucial times in your life. It only meant that the reason why you are living as normal as you are right now is because mom did not just rely on science to do the job to keep you alive, but she did what she has to do as your loving mom to make you a better person someday.

celinaflores123
celinaflores123

i was born 3 months early and i only weight 1 pound and i was very tiny my mom said she pry every night so her baby girl could live i had a lot of tubes on me to help me breath and stuff my mom said she was not sure if i was going to live she was so scared i was born in 1992.

Chin-Chin
Chin-Chin

I was born 2 and a half months premature, and I'm pretty thankful to have most, if not all of my faculties. I'm downright dreadful at math, but so is everyone else in my family , and they were all born on time so that's not really surprising, lol.


If you're reading this, and you were a preemie, don't let these kinds of articles discourage you. There's still a lot of unknowns when it comes to the brain, and there are hundreds if not thousands of people like who fight and beat the odds each and every day. With hard work and perseverance, you can hone your mind into a very effective tool. Just keep pushing yourself, and you'll do just fine.:)

kiaa.j
kiaa.j

i was born 3 month early and only weight 2 pounds i am healthy as a horse.but i was kept in the hospital for like 2 month because my heart monitor kept going of at night but they found out i kept pulling the plugs and tubes off me lol.  

AlexanderSYAbes
AlexanderSYAbes

I am a premature of  2 months early!!! and I have a good I.Q. my tchr. even says that I have still something to show off, but what really concerns me is about my mood I am a hot temper guy does it have something to do with prematurity ? they even says that I'm weird but I don't listen to them instead I consider myself unique! plsss answer me ^__^

Irina98
Irina98

I think the reason why Irina P. Gronseth needs thicker glasses is because she was born premature, and her Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is due to her early birth. 

Irina98
Irina98

Irina Paige Gronseth was born premature [she was early]. She's in her teens. She has 20/30 vision and needs thicker glasses. She's a Pisces [whether due to prematurity]. 

KalliJ.Wahls-House
KalliJ.Wahls-House

20 weeker I weighed 1lb 8 oz and stayed 6 months in the NICU. I fought like hell to be here and I'm still fighting. As far as functioning goes I'm good, I'm a above-average student, in h.s and college. I'm married and work part time. I got diagnosed with Fibromyalgia (whether due to prematurity, link unknown) in 2012. I'm 28 now. I have 40/60 vision with a bad astigmatism. I have a high roof of mouth due to the tube being in there so long and I also suffered a collapsed lung. How many of y'all have enough scars for 3 people? I know I do!! But as I said, we're here, we're very blessed and shouldn't waste a minute living a life we fought so hard to keep!

Irina98
Irina98

Mrs. Comden: Irina Paige Gronseth, my stepdaughter from Estonia, was born premature on March 14 because she was early. As a result, she needs thick glasses. She was born 16 weeks and 1 pound 2 ounces. Being born premature is very difficult. Since she could survive at a smaller weight [1 pound 2 ounces is a shorty], she surprised everyone with her healthiness [except for the fact she has OCD and needs thicker glasses].  

Irina98
Irina98

[continued]: Irina Paige Gronseth is currently very healthy [except for the fact she needs thicker glasses], but when she was early, she was born blind. A crip. It took a year to get this preemie Pisces caught up with the full-term infants.

Yes she's not a crip anymore [she's no longer blind!], but her vision will not get any better from thicker glasses because of her early birth.

Irina98
Irina98

[continued]: Irina Paige Gronseth needs thicker glasses because she was born premature! Irina has very poor vision because she was born 16 weeks and 1 pound 2 ounces! 

Irina98
Irina98

[continued]: Estonian preemies born 1 pound 2 ounces and 16 weeks were given crud because Stalin was a tyrant. In other words, Estonia didn't do so well in the end, and Estonia was a Communist country.

Estonia suffered 20 million casualties during the Second World War to destroy Judaism and Communism, and to this day, Estonian babies born premature [1 pound 2 ounces; 16 weeks] are given heck because the government either is less aware, or is just really poor. 

Irina98
Irina98

[continued]: Irina Paige Gronseth needed thicker glasses because her premature birth caused her to have nearsightedness--in other words, because she was early, she needed thick glasses. She needed special education because she had Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Her race was Estonian, she had very pale green eyes and very light brown hair [her hair was very blondish brown], she was a practicing Lutheran, but her religious heritage was Christian from her mom [that's why she wears a cross], and Jewish from her dad [that's why every birthday, she does a bat mitzvah]. 

In Estonia, people of paternal Jewish heritage were persecuted because Stalin was a rabbi-hating tyrant. In Estonia, people of maternal Christian blood were persecuted because Estonia was a Communist country. 

Irina98
Irina98

[continued]: See? You know what my favorite substitute, Mrs. Gronseth, told me: "The runt of the litter is always the biggest and the strongest, even though she was born a petite preemie!" 

I was born on 2000, and I am currently 5 feet, 1 3/4 inch. Some girls I know are adults, but they're women who are just 4'11" [not saying being a VERY SHORT 4'11" is a problem, but it is ironic that even though they were born full term, they're smaller].


Last night when I was sleeping, God gave me a dream: when I grow up, one of the children I would adopt, was born premature in Tallinn, Estonia, at 16 weeks and 1 pound 2 ounces. Her full name was Irina Paige Gronseth, but she was a miracle: Except for her Obsessive Compulsive Disorder [OCD], she had no health issues. She had never been a crip. 

Irina98
Irina98

[continued]: I'm a Christian, and when at church [where I met Mrs. G; she's a practicing Lutheran], I told her I was really born early. She said, "You're a miracle, because my preemie is now an invalid who won't eat and suffers from small stature." Mrs. G is so nice, but she was surprised when I told her I'm a preemie. 

"Did you ever break a bone? Were you ever a crip?" she asked.

I would not answer.
"WERE YOU EVER AN INVALID?" she asked loudly.

"No, never," I answered.

Mrs. Gronseth was surprised to hear this. She told me that her grandson was born premature, but he will not eat, he's really short for his age, and he's a crip. 


Irina98
Irina98

I [Hannah Kim] was born 24 weeks weighing only 1 pound 2 ounces in January 25, 2000. I'm 14 now, a senior high freshman, want to start out as an English teacher for sophomores in senior high when I grow up, and am healthier and more powerful than most people born on time [did you know that I have NEVER, EVER broken a limb or been a crip in my life?] I'm 5'1 3/4" and have mild Asperger's, but I have NEVER been a crip in my life. I had an IQ of 1,000 at 20 months old, and am now a genius. 

My sister, Esther M. Kim, was born full term and she weighed 6 pounds, 10 ounces. But she has severe lactose intolerance, whereas I can eat what I want. You know what they say, "the runt of the litter is always the champion!" 

Even my substitute teacher, Mrs. Gronseth, can't believe I was born premature at 1 pound 2 ounces. I told her I'm a preemie, but she said, "1 pound 2 ounces? How could you have ever survived?"  At church, she almost dropped her coffee cup when I told her I was born 1 pound 2 ounces.


ConnieD
ConnieD

I was born 6 weeks premature weighing only 4 pounds 10 ounces in the late 80's. I'm 24 now, married, have a college degree, and am healthier and stronger than a lot of other people I know who were born full term. My parents are still amazed to this day how healthy I am. Honestly I never get sick and I was 17 years old the last time I vomited (sorry if that was TMI) haha. I also have a friend who was born only 3 pounds, 7 weeks premature, and she's in graduate school. I really don't like reading articles that freak parents out who have premies because it only causes unnecessary worry. My younger sister was born full term and she weighed around 8 pounds. She's 21 years old now and only 5'2", has asthma, chronic heart burn, and a few minor allergies. I'm 5'7" and have no health issues. You know what they say, "the runt of the litter is always the biggest and the strongest!" ...not saying being 5'2" is a problem or anything, but it is ironic.


I do agree with Tyler Rutland though. Although my health has been great, I have suffered from shyness and social anxiety all my life. It does run in my family, but I recently found out it could be connected with my premature birth. When other babies are born, they usually come out of the womb, are cleaned up, and are immediately placed in the parents arms. This is crucial for social development. When premies are born, they are usually cleaned up and placed in an incubator. I was in there for a few months. Apparently just holding a baby, smiling, and giving attention in the first few days and months of life determine how outgoing that child may become when he or she grows up. Obviously my parents gave me all kinds of love and attention, but I do know other premies who grew up shy and had similar problems. I didn't interact with other children in pre-school and kindergarden and my teachers freaked out. They automatically assumed I wasn't going to fit in with other kids and encouraged my parents to see a specialist. I saw multiple specialists and all of them came up with the same conclusion, "She's really smart! She just doesn't feel like talking!" That was it! I've even heard of premies who had learning problems from preschool until the first few years of elementary school and they eventually caught up and were ok. DO NOT ALLOW PEOPLE TO FREAK YOU OUT FOR NO REASON!   I eventually learned to work with my shyness and not let it affect me negatively. I've gotten much better over the years and I have lots of friends, a husband, and am able to live a normal life. I constantly have to challenge myself by forcing myself into uncomfortable social situations, which at the time makes me nervous, but ultimately helps me grow as a person because I know I can accomplish anything. I also personally feel being an introvert helps me in other ways: 

-I'm a fantastic listener and therefore have an easy time getting jobs and maintaining relationships. 

-I'm patient and I never give up.

-I have an unusually good memory. (I'm not sure if this has to do with me being premature, but it is unusual). Since I was quiet growing up, I was more of an observer than a do-er, I think this may have contributed to this. I remember every person I meet, including their names. It freaks people out sometimes and makes me feel kinda creepy honestly...haha. My earliest memory was when i was 3 and my sister was born. My husband can barely remember middle school for pete sake!


 ANYWAYS, LONG STORY SHORT: Please do not panic if you have a premature baby. Just love and care for your bundle of joy just like you would your other babies and be optimistic. If your vulnerable baby can survive birth at such a small weight, then he or she can definitely surprise you with their accomplishments later on in life. (= 

asadalikhatri
asadalikhatri

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DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff

I guess the new motto for expectant mothers is "We will birth no whine before its time."

uppereastsidegirl
uppereastsidegirl

I was born after 24 weeks in 1970 and  I just do not think the studies reflect reality.  No one bothered to contact me regarding this research.  The only developmental problem I had was that I wasn't able to skip like the other kids in kindergarten, and I wasn't able to do a cartwheel.  I'm sure I wasn't the only one and it wasn't because I was born prematurely.  Fast forward to today...I graduated college in four years and have two law degrees.  Please do not continue to write stories of this sort that create fear in families who do not have a choice but to deliver prematurely.  It certainly won't help them cope with their worries.

MarkleMill
MarkleMill

My son, who is now 20, was born at 32 weeks gestation. He had a typical premie start -- very small, breathing and swallowing difficulties, and later dyslexia-type problems learning to read and write, but we provided him an enriched childhood (reading to him, playing educational games, taking him to museums) but more importantly -- pushed and pushed the school system to provide the extra help he needed -- special reading programs, therapy, tutoring, etc. He is now a mechanical engineering major at one of the top universities in the country. Early intervention works.     

Kargarden
Kargarden

In 1979 my nephew was born at 22 weeks weighing just one pound. He spent the next 3 months in the NICU. He has learning disabilities and struggles holding a job at 33. Because he was born a premie he has struggled. Surely there has been an awareness that babies born early have developmental problems from the beginning.

JenniferDegl
JenniferDegl

This is not very reassuring, but I am not going to dwell on it just yet. My daughter Joy was born at 23 weeks last year.  Due to modern medicine and prayers she is doing great today.  I hemorrhaged at 17 weeks for the first of 4 times because of 100% placenta previa, which turned into placenta accreta (which I believe was caused by 3 prior c-sections). After she came home from 121 days in the NICU, I wrote a memoir called "From Hope To Joy" about my life-threatening pregnancy and my daughter's 4 months in the NICU (with my 3 young sons at home), which is now available on Amazon.  It was quite a roller coaster that I am certain some of you have been on or are currently riding on. My goal of writing our memoir is to give a realistic look at what lies ahead to families with preemies in the NICU while showing them that hope can turn into Joy and that miracles can happen.Please see my website www.micropreemie.netand www.facebook.com/jenniferdegl

Thank you.

Jess McCarthy
Jess McCarthy

& still, I'm more concerned by a world without bees.

LilyByrneWrites
LilyByrneWrites

This is kind of obvious, have scientists really only just discovered it? What have they been doing all these years?

LeslieS
LeslieS

@thirteen Thank you so much for sharing what you have learned. I was born 7-8 weeks premature in the 1950's. I appreciate what you said about being thankful for the extra love and efforts made by my mother in the first weeks, months and years of my life, that kept me alive, and allowed me to thrive later on. The bond with my mother was very deep and strong, with deep love and affection.Later I cared for her in her last years as she suffered from dementia, and our roles reversed. 


One effect of the premature birth has been many bronchial infections, starting with pneumonia after birth, chronic immune dysfunction, and many lung infections. I now have fibromyalgia. I am easily overstimulated by sound, and activity, and need to have a calm environment. 

Irina98
Irina98

@Irina98

Irina Paige Gronseth's biological dad is American who practices Judaism [American is an ethnicity; Jewish is a religion], but her mom is Estonian who practices Catholicism. 

Her dad has BLONDE hair and BLUE eyes, but her mom has DIRTY BLONDE hair and BROWN eyes. Irina herself has blue eyes and blondish brown hair.

Irina98
Irina98

@ConnieD I agree! I was born premature [1 pound 2 ounces] on September 13, 1999 on midnight. We are both preemies! High five!

I'm 14 years old, 5'1", and am very healthy.

Irina98
Irina98

@ConnieD  I agree completely! Please do not panic if you have a preemie. Just love and care for your bundle of joy just like you would your other babies and be optimistic. If your petite baby can survive birth at such a shorter weight, then he or she can definitely surprise you with their accomplishments later on in life. In terms of height, I was at the 2nd percentile at birth, now I'm at the 59th percentile in height. 

Because I was born weighing 1 pound 2 ounces and less than an inch, when I'm in my sixties, I want to adopt a girl, Irina Paige Gronseth, who was born premature on March 14 in Tallinn, Estonia. Preemies are full of surprises! 

TylerRutland
TylerRutland

love your baby... if u love him or her with all your heart and you are strong, he or she will grow up and be able to accomplish great things. u are a loving parent for worrying about your baby, and i promise with extra compassion and consideration for their struggles they will turn out to be a wonderful adult.

this part is very important: your baby might not know what your love feels like the way a normal baby would instinctively, so u have to make sure they understand, even if it means trying many different methods of expressing your love to them. they must reach the understanding that u love and accept them unconditionally on their own in order to start the proper flow of hormones to their brain because it won't come naturally to them on their own... it might seem like they have autism or they are spaced out sometimes, but there is a high chance that it is simply caused by a lack of oxytocin circulating in their system, since babies get exposed to that hormone at the end of their gestation period and it plays a vital role in social bonding with other humans. without it, they can drift through life without forming even a single true friend... as it currently is the case with me, which is why i am telling u about it because i would never wish that kind of unbearable loneliness on even my worst enemy.

even if a normal kid might say u are being ridiculous for showing extra affection, and get embarrassed or think it will hurt their reputation, a preemie baby hasn't been exposed to the hormone that deals with affection, bonding, and total acceptance in the same way because they didn't get the right exposure to hormones at birth, so for them those expressions of affection and compassion / understanding are extra special and meaningful and have the power to heal them rapidly, like turning on a powerful light switch to light up what was once dark, cold, and soul-crushingly lonely... don't let ur baby stay in that cold, lonely place... even if you are in a loving environment together, if their brain can't process the correct hormone, it won't matter where they are - the loneliness will follow them no matter where they go and it will become their only true companion in life, even if they pretend to be outwardly happy because they don't even understand what they are missing out on.

u don't have to be scared about their future if u break through the coldness in their hearts that comes from a lack of hormone exposure. preemie babies are some of the most dedicated, resilient, and willful people u will ever meet... but u can't give up until the hormone breaks through, otherwise they will feel lonely for their entire life even if you direct all the love in your heart toward them. they will simply never know that your unconditional love for them exists...

brontyman
brontyman

@kykaree My wife is a former neonatal intensive care nurse of 15 years They work miracles everyday Be safe and well!

BiancaMaarie
BiancaMaarie

@uppereastsidegirl I also was born at~~24wks in 1968..weighing less than a lb.  I really wish they would not lump ALL preemies into these categories. The only issues I hv had was a less than optimum immune system, as a child.  But, I test at genius levels.  So, I agree...please stop making all preemie parents feel that their child will be less than norm.

LingMatt
LingMatt

@MarkleMill  Thanks for your post, need some positive stories once in awhile, my wife and I had our first baby at 32 weeks and 4 day of gestation and we are so worry about the long-term effect of being premature.  

LizLLarkin
LizLLarkin

@IrwinGill - FFS! I knew about that before I went to college! ... and that was a long time before I started at RCSI... A long, long time...

HamidAshouri
HamidAshouri

@LilyByrneWrites I assume you had discovered it decades ago. Yet, I blame you for not telling authorities to take actions

Irina98
Irina98

@BiancaMaarie @uppereastsidegirl  I was born at 24 weeks 1 pound 2 ounces on January 25, 2000. I weighed 1 pound 2 ounces, like I said, at 24 weeks. The only issue I have is that I have high-functioning Asperger's syndrome [I was born with severe OCD, which changed to mild Asperger's]. But, since I was 20 months old, I have had an IQ of 1,000. 

Even though I have this stupid, mild Asperger's syndrome because of this stupid, severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder I had when I was born, please stop making all preemie parents feel that their child will be dumb.