Babies 'should still be called premature if born at 37 weeks as infant could benefit from extra two weeks in womb'

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UPDATED:

01:07 GMT, 3 July 2012

Premature: Even babies considered full term could benefit from an extra fortnight in the womb

Premature: Even babies considered full term could benefit from an extra fortnight in the womb

The definition of premature birth should be raised to more than 37 weeks, experts claimed yesterday.

Even babies considered full term – between 37 and 41 weeks – could benefit from an extra fortnight in the womb, according to the study.

The additional time results in more brain development and slightly better scores in school mathematics and reading tests.

The research also raised serious
questions about the growing number of Caesarean deliveries, which are
sometimes scheduled for the convenience of mothers and even doctors.
Under the current definition, a pre-term baby is one born at less than
37 weeks.

Organ
systems generally mature in the three weeks before this point and the
foetus reaches adequate maturity by the end of this period.

Children arriving without 37 weeks in the womb are known to face increased chances of health and developmental problems.

According to the joint study by Columbia University Medical Centre and the New York Presbyterian Hospital, children born at 37 or 38 weeks did worse in academic tests than those born just a week or two later.

The results of the tests show women
should ‘at least proceed with caution before electing to have an earlier
term birth’, said Kimberly Noble, an assistant paediatrics professor at
Columbia and lead author of the study.

Extra time in the womb results in more brain development and slightly better scores in school mathematics and reading tests

Extra time in the womb results in more brain development and slightly better scores in school mathematics and reading tests (picture posed by models)

The researchers compared birth records and test scores for 128,000 eight year olds born in New York City in the late 1980s and early 1990s. All of them had been born between the normal 37 and 41 weeks of gestation.

Compared with 41-weekers, children born at 37 weeks faced a 33 per cent increased chance of having severe reading difficulties and a 19 per cent greater chance of having moderate problems in maths.

Judy Aschner, a paediatrics professor at America’s Vanderbilt University Medical Centre, said: ‘I don’t want to panic mums whose babies come at 37 weeks, but those elective early deliveries really need to stop.’
Children born at 38 weeks fared slightly better than those born at 37 weeks.