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'Slightly' premature babies at higher risk of poor health

Babies born a few weeks early have an increased risk of asthma, a study suggests.

Research, published in the British Medical Journal, studied 18,000 British babies born between September 2000 and August 2001.

Health outcomes including long-standing illnesses, hospital visits, and the usage of prescribed medication were analysed among infants in three intervals - nine months, three years and five years.

The study found babies born at 32 - 38 weeks were admitted to hospital in their first few months more often than full term babies.

Furthermore, those babies born between 33 and 36 weeks were subject to an increased risk of asthma and wheezing.

As such, the authors reported a “strong correlation” between premature birth and an increased risk of poor health outcomes.

Premature birth was listed as the “greatest contribution” to diseases found in those children studied aged both three and five. 

Researchers also found mothers of children born at less than 37 weeks were more likely to be single, less likely to have educational qualifications or work in managerial positions.

They claim it is “inappropriate” to group babies as 'preterm' or 'term' as they found a “continuum of increasing risk of adverse outcome with increasing prematurity, even approaching full term gestation”.

“Further explanation” of factors that influence health outcomes for babies born between 32-38 weeks is needed to inform the provision of obstetric services and planning and delivery of healthcare services for children in early life, claim the researchers.

Question: Does the study's profile of mothers of premature babies match your experiences?