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Study Identifies New Consequences of Preterm Births

Update Date: Sep 25, 2013 04:05 PM EDT

Fetuses are supposed to grow in the womb for nine months to maximize organ development.  When babies are born prematurely, there could be a lot of complications that jeopardize the health of both mother and child. In a new study examining over millions of births, researchers found more information on the consequences of preterm births.

For this study, the researchers from Indiana University Bloomington examined the records on 3.3 million children who were born in Sweden from 1973 through to 2008. From the large amount of data, the researchers were able to analyze the effects of preterm births on mortality, psychological health educational results and social function. Although the researchers found a lot of the same results found in previous studies, this particular study might be the largest population-based study of preterm births so far. In addition, this study compared preterm births to the full-term births of siblings instead of unrelated full-term infants.

The researchers concluded that being born prematurely was tied to an increased risk of mortality. Preterm births appeared to also increase the risk of having autism and ADHD (attention deficiency hyperactivity disorder). When the researchers compared siblings, they found that the risk of mental disorders, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, was reduced. The researchers believed that this risk was reduced because mental disorders might be tied to genetics as opposed to being born preterm.

"That part of the association with severe mental illness and all of the association with suicide isn't due to preterm birth; it is due to something else, something that siblings share," said lead author Brian D'Onofrio, associate professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Indiana University Bloomington.

The researchers also found that being born preterm might not be directly linked to having a low income in adulthood. When the researchers compared preterm infants to unrelated infants born at 40 weeks of gestation, the likelihood of having low income increased for the preterm infants. When these infants were compared to their full-term siblings, however, the chance of having a low income did not increase. This suggests that other key factors might be at play.

"The study confirms the degree to which preterm birth is a major public health concern and strongly supports the need for social services that reduce the incidence of preterm birth," said D'Onofrio. "Yet, the findings also suggest the need to extend services to all siblings in families with an offspring born preterm. In terms of policy, it means that the entire family, including all of the siblings, is at risk."

The study, "Preterm birth and mortality and morbidity: A population-based quasi-experimental study," was published in JAMA Psychiatry.

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