A recent study executed by researchers from McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, determined that premature babies are more likely to face health issues and social difficulties through their life. It seems that the birth weight may affect somehow the challenges that the individual will face at some point in his or her life. The study was published today in JAMA Pediatrics.
Although it may sound like a weird conclusion, this is actually the first scientific study that followed the life paths of premature babies, up to their 30s and 40s. The study aims to reach the adulthood of premature babies in order to understand the link between that particular feature of their birth and the development of the rest of their lives.
Almost 1 out of 10 babies born in America are premature, considering that an infant is premature when the birth takes place three or more weeks before the due date for the birth. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 450,000 babies are born prematurely every year. This phenomenon is called the Preterm Birth, and the main problem is that the development process that takes places in the mother’s womb is not completed, so the baby is born with less time to grow and develop completely in order to face life out of the womb.
This phenomenon is called the Preterm Birth, and the main problem is that the development process that takes places in the mother’s womb is not completed, so the baby is born with less time to grow and develop completely in order to face life out of the womb.
Preemies at risk
Premature babies are a known population at risk since being born before the 37 weeks of pregnancy may lead to long-term neurological disabilities in children, including visual and hearing problems, as well as learning disabilities, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Preterm birth is also the cause of major deaths among children. 35 percent of infant deaths in 2010 was due to complications related to preterm births.
A usual characteristic of premature babies is the low birth weight, although it may vary depending on the exact time of birth, they are usually severely underweight. In the physical health side, premature babies are known for being more likely to suffer from apnea and other respiratory issues, as well as encephalopathy or regular hemorrhages, however, social and economic issues were never studied among premature babies, until now.
The research called “Health, Wealth, Social Integration, and Sexuality of Extremely Low-Birth-Weight Prematurely Born Adults” aimed to provide information on health, educational level, employment, social integration, sexuality, and reproduction through standardized questionnaires completed by the participants; to compare the social functioning of low-birth-weight prematurely born adults.
The study used data from 100 adults aged 29 to 36 years old that were premature babies and their life paths were compared to 89 adults who were normal weight at birth, and the results showed that low birth weight babies were more likely to remain single and not be sexually active through their lives.
Some other issues like being unemployed for longer periods of time, earn less money and have lower self-esteem were also detected in adults that were premature babies at the moment of their birth. Personality was also different in adults who were preemies, since the investigation showed that there is a trend to be less outgoing, as well as a trend to suffer from depression or anxiety, making the low birth weight group the least assertive and extroverted in the investigation.
However, must of these features are related to the personal sphere of the lives of the subjects studied since no significant difference was detected in other areas of their lives, like the level of education achieved and the productivity of the individuals among their communities.
Not all is lost
Despite the negative features linked to being a premature baby, some other findings showed that this population is less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol and did not face as much health issues as expected at the time of their birth. The study overall ends up being a very positive input in the neonatology field, for physicians, scientists, and families that face a preterm birth.
The problems related to preterm births are now clearer, what allows experts to work towards the design of some remedial intervention strategies. Monitoring premature babies through their lives allows scientists understand better the actual effects of being born earlier than adequate.
The starting point
The main author of the study, Saroj Saigal, is a Neonatologist specialized in high-risk babies and she develops research for the McMaster Children’s Hospital. The doctor has worked with the premature babies field over the years and in 2014 she released a book called “Preemies Voices”, a compilation of letters from adults who were born prematurely, sharing experiences about their lives and medical journeys.
The book was actually the starting point of this investigation, where Dr. Saigal, among other specialized researchers, decided to provide the scientific basis for something that was not explored in that way before.
More good news
Actually, another study published in JAMA proved that the chances of survival for extremely underweight premature babies are increasing over the years. The survival rates are improving up to 70 percent since 1993, the initial year that was studied in that investigation. Infection control efforts, among other initiatives to protect premature babies, are being developed and they seemed to prove that managing preterm births is possible.
JAMA Pediatrics, the Journal of the American Medical Association has published several studies about premature babies since neonatal intensive care is a primary area of study for the organization. That means that efforts of understanding preterm birth and its effects is, happily, a never ending trend.
Source: JAMA Pediatrics