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The Informed Parent

Behavioral Problems With Preterm Infants

by Peter W. Welty, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Published on Dec. 11, 2006

Pediatricians have long wondered whether preterm infants tended to have more behavioral problems than their non-preterm or full term peers. What are the factors associated with behavioral problems in preterm infants?

A study in the June 2006 issue of Pediatrics evaluated babies born at 22-32 weeks gestation. They were compared with a group of babies born term. The behavioral problems of 1228 babies of very preterm infants without major neurological difficulties were studied.

The results showed that very preterm children were more likely than the full term children to have behavioral difficulties. Several medical conditions were associated with a high total difficulty score: major neonatal cerebral lesions, hospitalization within the last year, poor health and psychomotor delay. In addition, other issues to be taken into consideration were a high birth order, low maternal age, and low maternal educational level. These were also considered risk factors for behavioral problems. Higher total scores were found in the areas of hyperactivity, conduct problems and peer problems.

The study concluded that very preterm infants have a higher risk of behavioral problems at three years of age as compared to their term-born peers. Health and neurodevelopment issues in the preterm child are significantly associated with behavioral difficulties.

See your pediatrician for further information and recommendations for follow-up.

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