Premature Birth May Lead to Behavioral Problems
Premature babies and babies born with low birth weights have long been known to have several physical health problems – both at birth, and later in life. But now it appears that these babies may also suffer from mental and behavioral issues down the road as well. Keep reading for more on this recent scientific study.
Low birth weight and premature birth have been shown to have long lasting physical and mental health issues in children, according to a recent study reported by Reuters. The study showed that children who were born early may experience certain behavioral problems and increased risk of mental health issues like depression and anxiety. The study results are particularly interesting in light of developments in recent years that have improved survival rates for premature babies.
Details of the Study
The study looked at 104 children and teens (from ages 7 to 16), 49 of whom were born very prematurely, or between the 24th and 33rd week of pregnancy (40 weeks is typical). Birth weights of the premature children ranged from extremely low (less than 2.2 pounds) to very low (between 2.2 and 3.3). Those latter children showed increased rates of hyperactivity and attention deficient disorder, depression and anxiety, as compared to the other children in the study. IQ scores and socioeconomic status, which are typically markers for these issues, were not correlated in the study. Rather, birth weight appeared to be the strongest factor.
The findings, which were reported in the journal Pediatrics, showed that birth rate can have a significant impact on behavioral issues later in childhood. Dr. Amy L. Conrad, University of Iowa College of Medicine, said the study “suggests that in children born prematurely, behavioral issues might be more biologically based and not easily compensated for by improvements in the environment.”
The study report did point out that though the increased risk of behavioral issues seemed to correlate to low birth rates, most of the children in the study did not exhibit significant problems. The study also pointed out that the parents of the children born prematurely also experienced higher rates of behavioral and emotional issues, as compared to the other parents.
The study showed that about 18 percent of children born prematurely experienced clinical hyperactivity or attention problems (serious enough to benefit from therapy), and about 14 percent had emotional issues that fell into the clinical or serious category.
Children were tested in the study by taking standardized intelligence tests and their parents were asked to fill out questionnaires on their behavior. Parents of the preterm children reported more issues with behavior than was the case for parents of full-term birth children, and the severity of the issues appeared to correspond to the extent of the birth weight deficiency.
Conrad pointed out that birth weight can affect brain development in ways that later make the children susceptible to behavioral problems. While these behavior issues were not correlated to other factors like IQ and socioeconomic status, environmental factors can serve to mitigate the effects of low birth weight, the researchers said. The researchers added that parents of premature babies should have an awareness of the potential for issues later down the road in children who are born premature, look for signs of those issues and seek treatment where warranted.