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Babies born in weeks 37 and 38 suffer more health problems

2nd March 2012

Academics have issued a warning over potential health problems for babies who are born early.

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Writing in the British Medical Journal, researchers say that babies born at 37 and 38 weeks, rather than actually premature, tend to have slightly worse health than those born full term.

The study of 18,000 British children by the team at Leicester University found they are a third more likely to suffer from a long-term problem, and 15% more likely to suffer from asthma.

Babies born at 39 and 40 weeks are recognised as full term, but only those born before 37 weeks are regarded as premature, while those born in between are deemed ‘early.’

The study was led by Dr Elaine Boyle who said her team was surprised at their findings.

“I think we need to be aware that there are potentially more problems than we previously believed,” she said.

She emphasised that the risks were at a population level, and did not mean a particular child born early would actually have worse health.

Dr Boyle said those born between 32 and 37 weeks potentially exerted a greater pressure on healthcare services than the most seriously preterm babies by virtue of being far more common.

She said: “I think what isn’t being recognised is how much these babies contribute to the overall burden of illness in the child population.”

However, she said that there was still more work to do on whether it was feasible, or even desirable, to follow up all these babies.

 

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