Lasting Effects of Being Born Too Early

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Bernd Vogel/Corbis

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.

97 comments
thatgirlnamedrachael
thatgirlnamedrachael

I know this article is old, but I just wanted to share my story because I'm bored and why not...??  


I was born at 23 weeks (4 months early) at 1lbs and 15oz and was in a ICU for the first 4 months of my life. At birth, I had a brain hemorrhage (bleeding in the brain) which admittedly gave me most of my problems, and also caused me to need a blood donation.  It wasn't expected that I would live longer than 24h, and the same was said for the next 24h and the next, and the next. There even  came a point when I priest came into the hospital to ask my mum if I wanted 'death blessings/rituals' or something!! 


After a while it seemed I would eventually recover. Although I had suspected Cerebral Palsy and Autism for a long time, I never developed either of those conditions luckily. Unfortunately I did have to go through 2 years of speech therapy, and only said my first words and walked my first steps when I was nearly 2. I also had Acid Reflux, meaning anything I ate would just be thrown up. This meant I barely put on weight, had to be fed through a feeding tube for 2 years (I still have the scar on my tummy from that) and even had to go through eating therapy once the acid reflux had been controlled by a lot of medicine. I did have a lot of issues with my eyesight however and had daily and then weekly eye tests in the ICU to make sure I wasn't going blind. I now have Astigmatism, poor eyesight out of my left eye and have to wear glasses - but I know that could be a lot worse and I'm barely bothered by it. 


In total I've had (I think) 8 surgeries on various areas of my body (mainly my eyes, stomach etc.). I've also had several MRI's and CAT scans. I now have a hospital appointment every 6 months with my nurse who's known me my entire life. 


Now (I'm 14 years old) the only real problems I have are coordination difficulties (I'm bad at sports and general hand-eye coordination things, even simple things like tying shoelaces or cutting paper with scissors or drawing are hard for me and take a ton of concentration and effort to do properly). I also need a daily growth hormone injection as I have growth hormone deficiency, and am currently 4,12 feet. I also am bad at maths and general problem solving things. I'm also not great at paying attention to things, tend to space out a lot or just generally not think about things that other people would, which can be annoying for myself and obviously others :D 


Anyway, I just feel like, as others below me have pointed out, that life really is what you make it. No matter what situation you're in, or what experiences you've been through, you CAN and WILL make it through alive and happy if you put the effort in. Stay Strong and Carry On xx 



Notthegirlnextdoor
Notthegirlnextdoor

@thatgirlnamedrachael Love you Rachael. I am much like you only no follow up and NICU. Because it did not exist when I was born. My mom was told to not give a favored name to me as I was not expected to live either.

The bad coordination thing is the worst and although it is considered a mild form of CP; United Cerebral Palsy will neither take me on as a client nor hire me at an entry level office job. I stopped growing between the ages 9 and 10 but got a healthy growth spurt and after a semi successful calf lengthening operation, I went from 5 ft 5 in to 5 ft 8 inches.

My IQ is above average. But my mechanical and mangerial abilities are zero. Otherwise I'd be off the charts so they say. I've been accused of throwing the test on purpose. I learned to read at two. I KNEW those symbols at the bottom of the page told everyone else the story and I had to know. I like word problems in math. But I am not tidy. Think of pig pen, the messy guy on the odd couple, a typical slob teen and that's me. Even if I try; messiness is my natural tendancy. All jobs want neatness and multitasking and speed as a given. I have strengths but those are not  them. Again, UCP will not help me.

People hate that I try to stay happy despite my circumstances. For some reason this seems to make others want to slap the smile off my face and not offer me the open doors that are offered to others. And I try to seek out good people.

Hang in there. Sounds like you have a better support system than I but I agree with so much of what your wise young mind has shared.

AmyRossland
AmyRossland

Right here is the perfect site for anyone who really wants to understand this topic. You realize so much its almost tough to argue with you (not that I personally would want to.HaHa). You definitely put a fresh spin on a subject that's been discussed for ages. Excellent stuff, just wonderful!

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BrandyMundy
BrandyMundy

I was born premature and I'm 31 years old and the effects of being premature are so noticeable to me but not to everyone else. You can be smart as a whip but still have severe problems as an adult who was born premature. My hearing is not all that good and neither is my memory. My eye sight is ok but I struggle with balance at times. I walk on my tip toes. The most frustrating is my memory and hearing. Lately I've been feeling the back of my brain go numb. It's horrible. No one is harder on a premie than the premie.

smbac5
smbac5

My 23 yr old daughter was born at 24 weeks gestation weighing 1 lb. 5 oz. She seems to have multiple neurodevelopment disorders but I can't figure out where to take her for evaluation and therapy to help her overcome these problems and live an independent life.  

Johntoreno07
Johntoreno07

I'm pretty sure the physical&psychological effects of being born  premature is kind of permanent&irreversible and its not like you can make up for being born 2-3 months early by some magic diet or something.. its not possible.. 

People should look things from a better perspective! Just be glad you're alive at all because in the nature the chances of a weak baby surviving alone is pretty hard. LET alone a premature one.. in fact premature babies can hardly survive at all without an ICU so if you were a preemie just be glad that you're alive cus you clearly cheated death.

theWonder
theWonder

I was born three months early, weighing 2lbs, 4oz. I was being watched for cerebral palsy for the first 2 years of my life. I was diagnosed with ADHD in 2nd grade, however, I also have synesthesia. Several kinds. ADHD is often misdiagnosed with those who have synesthesia. I also took an IQ test(An official one, not online), and scored 192. I cannot seem to find many results online about the possibility of a connection between premature birth and synesthesia or abnormally high intelligence, so I would appreciate any insight people may have to offer. Thank you,

Melissa, Age 13

BrandyMundy
BrandyMundy

@theWonder I was born three months early too at one pound eleven ounces. To be honest I think my mom said I was born at the beginning of 25 weeks.

StaceyBartholomew
StaceyBartholomew

I'd like to tell you a story..

My beautiful and talented daughter was born 9 weeks early, was on breathing apparatus for her first 24 hours, had a boutique with pneumonia at 2 months, just after coming home from 2 months in neonatal unit. She didn't walk til almost 2 years old, or talk. But once she did, it just didn't stop getting better and better. She has a great metabolism (eats a LOT, never seems to gain an ounce), has only had minor issues with health (colds, allergies, etc.), was in speech therapy until 2nd grade, always excelled in school, had many many friends, can be a little anxious at times, and is very talented at piano and art.

Only thing I can say that was tough was her teeth, she never lost quite a few of her baby teeth, and had adult teeth turned sideways under them, so the whole 5 years of orthodontic treatment was tough.

She was a joy to live with, and almost never any behavior issues.

I write this because, I love her so much, and have always known that she is an exception to any rules!

She just HAD to be born on New Year's eve 1989, to help us usher out the 80's!! And the tax deduction wasn't bad either! Lol Love that girl of mine!

AustinSanderson
AustinSanderson

You purposely had your baby premature for a tax deduction? That has to be one of the most deranged things I've ever heard.

malachi560
malachi560

I was born at 25 weeks I weighed at 1 pound and 12 ounces, I had to have breathing assistance and stay at the hospital for the next 3 months, I've been diagnosed with ADHD since 1st or 2nd grade. I still take medication for it now, At 19 years old. But I am thankful that I made it out fine and living with ADHD is a challenge, but it's manageable. 

jinxsmith69
jinxsmith69

I'm stating never have had medical help since I was born. sorry but no Drs up in the mountains of Mexico ,only good parents that take every note to care for you.

jinxsmith69
jinxsmith69

I was born on my 7 month at home in Mexico with no Dr.s just my mom giving birth ,I'm sorry but I've never had the flue, never had problems with asthma, etc, I'm 40 and still feel no difference in anything.

Emmysmom
Emmysmom

In 1963 I was born at 26 weeks - 2lbs 3oz. I'd like to know documented facts regarding issues that can/could/will/do in older years. Obviously, I'm now 51. I have so many things happening health wise so that is the reason for this post. I'd truly appreciate information. 


Thank you

dmlavender2
dmlavender2

I am 52 and also borned in 1963 at 1.5 pounds and are going through a lot of medical problems. My memory has gotten worst along with spelling. I realized that I had the problems for years but found ways around it like spell check. Also having bone issues. So sad. I'm so blessed to be able to make it. Going through the testing cycle to find the real me.

DeeDee96
DeeDee96

I was born at 23 weeks 5 days, in 1996, weighing 1lb 6oz, as a result of Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome. Though my twin did not survive, and I was on a ventilator for more than 3 months, and had to have heart surgery and breathing assistance, I have no apparent/diagnosed lasting effects of being born so early, bar some quirks. I had trouble when I was a small child, identifying myself as a part of a group (teachers had to address me directly, as if they said 'table three, you do this task' I would not take any notice until they said 'that means you too' etc.), though this is no longer the case. I had a stutter until I was 4 years old and the begins of asthma for the same amount of time, and again neither of these affect me now, at 19.
Like some others who have commented, I also have somewhat of an aversion to loud noises, and other things like the sound of someone chewing. I'm not sure this is a result of being prem, though.
I find myself today to be an entirely average person, despite the worries of doctors and family in the first few months and years of life. I am 5 foot 4, at a certainly acceptable weight, and in my first year of university. I have suffered no setbacks in terms of 'neurological impairment', and was always ranked highly in Maths and English at school, my reading rate far higher than most other students (at least at primary, I can't say for secondary). I have not been physically affected by my prematurity, either, if that is in question - I have no disabilities, despite the doctors' warnings in 1996. I do agree that 'life is what we make of it', and that we certainly ought to make the best of being alive, though of course it can be so hard at times - the same as everyone else.
My case, in fact, was used to keep the date of the abortion limit in the UK down to 24 weeks (they had to lie about the due date so that my mother wasn't simply having a miscarriage at the time - 2 days can make a lot of difference, apparently).

Jabercorp
Jabercorp

I was born at 24 weeks. I'm 6'2 190 lbs. Life is what you make of it. You want to feel sorry for yourself because your a preemie? We are alive. Make the most of it. Love your mothers and enjoy yourself.

lucy201568
lucy201568

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.Casquette Jordan

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AAKDJ

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th1sguy0verh3r3
th1sguy0verh3r3

I was born in 1979, at 26 weeks weighing 1 lb and 15 oz's. By the time I was in 3rd grade, I was reading at an 8th grade level. This article needs to check it's facts. Also, preemies are at a higher risk of developing craniostenosis (which is genetic). I was born with scaphocephaly and it didn't help that I was on a C-PAP machine for the first 4 months of my life, always on one side or the other. I've always been told I'm smarter  than the average joe, so I can't really agree with this article.

BrandyMundy
BrandyMundy

@th1sguy0verh3r3 I was reading on college level by the time I got to my freshman year in high school and while I am great at the schooling part,I for the life of me can't figure out the memory strengthening part. I have no idea what to do about my loss of memory. I'm only 31 but it's worse than what it was when I was young. 

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.

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. 

KenS
KenS

@LeslieS @thirteen weird, I was premature baby and cant stand some noises like chewing and slamming doors. Maybe their is a connection or maybe its just coincidence. 

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.

BrandyMundy
BrandyMundy

@celinaflores123 Just like me. The doctors told my mom I would be mentally retarded always years behind everyone else. The hardest thing I go through is lack of memory and hearing at times. I also have four kids so I haven't slept since I was 19.

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.