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Babies Born A Few Weeks Early Might Fall Behind

Update Date: Apr 17, 2013 01:02 PM EDT

Due to busy schedules, work-related pressures and personal preferences, pregnant women have been opting for scheduled cesarean deliveries, also known as C-sections, before their pregnancies have reached full term. Although elective C-sections have been gaining popularity with nearly 40 percent of women choosing this birth option, a new study suggests that the procedure could actually be detrimental for the baby's growth later on in life. This study, headed by Dr. Betsy Lozoff, a professor of pediatrics and communicable diseases from the University of Michigan discovered that babies who are born even a few weeks earlier have a higher risk of lagging behind.

The medical definition of a full term pregnancy is between the weeks of 37 and 41. The researchers of this study wanted to see the effects of getting C-sections at the earlier weeks of 37 to 38 as opposed to the later end of the range.  The research team looked at 1,562 infants at the age of one and studied their growth in connection to when they were born. The infants, all from Chile, were born within the range of a full term pregnancy and weighed an average of 6.6 pounds. The researchers found that mental assessment performance results increased by 0.8 per additional week that the infant stayed within the womb. The researchers used psychomotor scores, which measure body movement and coordination, and found that these scores increased 1.4 points per additional week in the womb.

"If pregnancy is going well, it would be beet to avoid doing elective C-sections early in the full-term window," said Lozoff.

The researchers acknowledged the fact that they did not find a cause and effect relationship between being born at 37 or 38 weeks and slower mental and motor performances. However, they stress that if there are no health concerns, mothers should consider leaving the baby in the womb as long as possible. Elective C-sections might give parents a better schedule, but the possible repercussions of an earlier birth might not be worth it.

The study was published in Pediatrics.

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