Premature Birth A Risk For Developmental Delays

According to a 2002 study conducted by the National Institute of Health (NIH), children who are born just two to four weeks premature can put a child at risk for developmental delays. To arrive at this conclusion, NIH studied the motor and social development (MSD) records of children from four to six months old, seven to nine months, from ten to 12 months, from 13 to 15 months, from 16 to 18 months, from 19 to 21 months, and from 22 to 47 months. The study showed that low birth weight and prematurity were factors that were as significant as being born to an older mother, being the youngest child in the family, being born into poverty, and being born into a family with a low educational level for the risks of developmental delays.

Specifically, researchers found that infants born between weeks 33-36 of the pregnancy were “more likely to experience a delay in one or two developmental milestones for a given age category”.

The milestones for developmental delays, according to the University of Michigan Children’s Hospital, are measured based on the following categories:
• Gross motor: using large groups of muscles to sit, stand, walk, run, etc., keeping balance, and changing positions.
• Fine motor: using hands to be able to eat, draw, dress, play, write, and do many other things.
• Language: speaking, using body language and gestures, communicating, and understanding what others say.
• Cognitive: Thinking skills: including learning, understanding, problem-solving, reasoning, and remembering.
• Social: Interacting with others, having relationships with family, friends, and teachers, cooperating, and responding to the feelings of others.
This study is significant because it has been previously thought that inducing labor or cesarean sections posed little or no threat to pregnant mothers and their children. However, the NIH wants to alert caregivers of premature infants to be “on the lookout for developmental delays”. "If a child is born moderately premature, caregivers should know that minor delays are likely and can check when the child is older to see if he or she needs any early childhood educational services." says Mary L. Hediger, Ph.D., a researcher with NICHD's Division of Epidemiology, Statistics and Prevention Research.

Columbia University's study also showed that more children are being born prematurely, from 9.1 percent in 1989 to 17.1 percent in 1996.

Because many of us teach teenage parents or students who are pregnant, we should make sure they are aware of the importance of staying healthy throughout their pregnancy. We should make information such as the study conducted by the researchers at the University of Michigan and Columbia University available to our students so that they can avoid preventable disabilities in their children.

I also found it interesting that prematurity was "as significant a factor" in the risks of developmental delays as being born into poverty or having uneducated parents. This comment was made in the larger context of the report of the study, but it stood out to me because I wasn't aware that circumstances such as being born into low income households had anything to do with the development of the brain. This may contradict our definition of developmental delays, then, from a developmental disorder of the brain to a socially-constructed developmental deficit.

Created By: Kristen Holtschlag

Bock, Robert (2002). National Institute of Health Publication:
The University of Michigan Health System, 17 July 2007: