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Preemies' Thinking Skills Catch Up by Adolescence?

Study hints at the importance of nutrition and a stimulating home environment
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The researchers noted that the only extremely preterm children who were included in the study were those with good fetal growth at the time of their birth. As a result, they said that the sample may not be representative of all preterm children, only the most neurologically normal.

One expert agreed that the research may not reflect the full spectrum of preemies.

"This is an abnormally rosy picture of preterm birth," said Dr. Catherine Herway, an assistant director of maternal-fetal medicine at Staten Island University Hospital, in New York City.

Herway added that she was concerned that research suggesting that problems of prematurity may be resolved by adolescence may fuel a current trend where women are asking that their babies be delivered a couple of weeks before their due date.

"The number one reason is that women are tired of being pregnant, don't like their swollen feet or the back pain, and I don't blame them. But it's a choice of putting up with the discomfort for the lifelong health of your child," Herway said.

Neither Campbell nor Herway were involved in the study.

Campbell encouraged parents of preemies to monitor their children's development and make sure they are meeting the appropriate milestones. "It's not about money," she said. "Anyone can create different developmental stimuli, can talk to their children and introduce them to the world."

Yet, even with careful parental support, prematurity is a lifelong health risk, said Campbell. Adults who were preemies may have a higher risk of upper respiratory issues and metabolic syndrome, a combination of physiological abnormalities that increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, she explained.

Adults who were preemies can also experience thinking challenges. On average, intellectual potential will be slightly diminished, Campbell explained. "If your genetic potential was supposed to be an IQ of 120, it would be about 110, depending on how little you were when you were born and how sick you were," she said.

Herway said more studies are needed to better understand the long-term outcomes of prematurity.

"Sometimes we see kids born at 26 weeks and they're totally normal," Herway said. "It's multi-factorial and we really don't understand it."

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