Babies Born Too Early Likely to Face Educational and Lifelong Behavioral Setbacks

February 16, 2021

Babies who are born early are likely to face adverse neurocognitive and behavioral outcomes as they go from kindergarten through high school, according to new Stanford research.

A full-term birth is typically between 37 and 42 weeks of pregnancy, but births between 32 and 36 weeks are considered moderate to late preterm births. And those seemingly short few weeks may result in serious education lags and lifelong behavioral impacts.

“Late preterm birth — previously considered unimportant beyond infancy — may be an important neurocognitive risk factor,” said Lee M. Sanders, a pediatrician, core faculty member at Stanford Health Policy and chief of the division of general pediatrics at Stanford Medicine. “So, this warrants special screening and intervention from medical providers, early childcare providers, early intervention programs — and schools.”

Findings from the study by Lee and his Stanford colleagues were recently published inThe Journal of Pediatrics. They found that after adjusting for socioeconomic status and compared with full-term births, moderate and late preterm births are associated with increased risk of low performance in mathematics and English language arts, as well as chronic absenteeism and suspension from school.

“In a sort of negative cascade, these outcomes are associated with a host of further reduced opportunities later in life, including lower engagement in school, reduced access to college, and higher unemployment,” said co-author Carrie Townley Flores, a doctoral student at the Stanford Graduate School of Education (GSE). “Each of these negative outcomes indicate that the system that is in place is not supporting the child fully. As schools become aware of the risks associated with preterm birth, they may pay closer attention to it as a potential risk factor.”