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Babies Born Very Small Are Likely to Have Problems Later

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Bates, a pediatric neurologist at Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock, also warns that the children examined in this study may encounter even more problems once they enter school.

"That is absolutely correct," Vohr says. "If you look at studies of school performance of children who weighed less than [2 pounds] at birth, half of them require special help. However, with the proper intervention, many of those problems can be addressed."

Vohr prefers to take a brighter outlook on these findings. "Overall, 49% of the children had poor outcomes at 18 months of age, but that means 50% of them had good outcomes," she says. "Eighty-three percent of them were walking, and 80% of them were able to feed themselves independently. I'm optimistic that these children will be doing even better by age 4 to 5 years."

Bates and Vohr urge women to everything they can to ensure a healthy pregnancy and decrease the risk of delivering prematurely. "For every week you can gain of intrauterine life and every [few ounces of birth weight] you can gain, it seems to make a significant difference in outcome," Bates says.

Vohr adds: "Seek prenatal care early. Get good nutrition, don't smoke or drink, engage in moderate exercise -- maintain a healthy lifestyle."

If you already have a baby who was premature, she advises, "ask about early interventions. Talk to the neonatologist and other experts available. Most of all, just provide a lot of love and nurturing for your baby."

Vital Information:

  • Premature babies who have extremely low birth weights run the risk of developmental problems, including cerebral palsy, hearing impairment, or vision problems.
  • As medical technology improves, more premature babies are surviving, so these problems may be greater in the future.
  • Half of the extremely low birth weight babies, though, have normal development, and researchers suspect that others may catch up, developmentally, by age 4 or 5.
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