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Longer Pregnancy is Excellent for Your Child

Update Date: Jul 03, 2012 05:48 AM EDT

After a lot of focus on the issues faced by children born prematurely, researchers have now concluded that it does make a difference in the mental abilities between children who are born before 37 weeks and those born after 41 weeks.

Babies born before 37 weeks are called premature whereas a baby develops completely between 37 and 41 weeks of the mother's pregnancy. However, many women go ahead for an early delivery, simply because she is too tired of pregnancy or because the doctor is busy in the following weeks. But then researchers say that those extra weeks in the womb do matter.

The extra time results in more brain development, and the latest study suggests that it could also mean a better performance in academics by the children.

The children who participated in the study were all born after 37 weeks (full-term) and almost all of them performed well in third-grade math and reading tests. However, although the differences were small, test results showed that more number of children born at 37 or 38 weeks performed poorly when compared to those born one or two weeks later.

The researchers and other experts suggest that the definition of prematurity should be reconsidered and the findings pose a question on early deliveries by mothers electively rather than for medical reasons.

Women should "at least proceed with caution before electing to have an earlier term birth," said lead author Dr. Kimberly Noble, an assistant pediatrics professor at Columbia University Medical Center, according to the report.

The results revealed that among the children born at 37 weeks, 2.3 percent performed very poorly in reading skills and 1.1 percent had at least moderate problems in math. Whereas, among children born at 41 weeks, the percentage was 1.8 and 0.9 respectively.

Children born at 38 weeks were found to be slightly better than those born at 37 weeks.

Also, children born at 37 reportedly faced a 33 percent more risk of having a severe reading difficulty in third grade, and a 19 per cent raised risk of facing moderate problems in math.

"These outcomes are critical and predict future academic achievement," said Naomi Breslau, a Michigan State University professor and sociologist.

The research "will cause quite a stir," said Dr. Judy Aschner, a pediatrics professor and neonatology director at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, who was not involved in the study. She also said that unlike how people think, delivering babies for convenience via C-section before 41 weeks is a "big deal."

Aschner added that this does not mean that women should try and delay childbirth.

"I don't want to panic moms whose babies come at 37 weeks," she said. "But those elective early deliveries really need to stop."

The study was published online Monday in Pediatrics.

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