Premature birth leads to poor language skills

Babies born prematurely are more likely to struggle with language and communication than those born full-term

A new study by the University of Brighton, in collaboration with the University of Warwick and the Eunice Kennedy Shrive National Institure of Child Health and Human Development in the US, examined the communication skills of over 700 children who were more prematurely, moderately late or full term, revealing that those born early were more likely to have poor language skills.

Published in the Journal of Pediatrics, sets of German parents volunteered their children soon after birth, and saw them tested at stages up to the age of eight for skills including grammar, sentence production and language comprehension. Very premature children consistently performed worse than those who reached full-term, with moderately-late children scoring in between the two. If a baby is born before 37 weeks, they are considered to be premature.

The research was led by Dr Suna Eryigit-Madzwamuse, Senior Research Fellow in the University of Brighton’s Centre for Health Research. She said; “Preterm birth accounts for more than 15 million yearly births worldwide. Very preterm children are at increased risk for delays and deficits in various aspects of language and as survival rates following a preterm birth have risen due to improvements in obstetrics and neonatology, preterm birth has emerged as a risk factor for poor development in an increasing proportion of the population.”

“Pediatricians and parents should be made aware that preterm-born children, even those born moderate- late preterm, are at risk for delayed language compared to term children. 
By 20 months of age, children who are performing poorly relative to their peers are likely to continue to perform poorly at later ages, suggesting that standard follow-up assessment of language at the end of the second year of life is highly predictive and may indicate the need for intervention. This study also emphasizes the importance of frequent checkups in the first couple of years after preterm birth. Through regular checkups in toddlerhood, pediatricians have the opportunity to connect children who have lagging language skills to critical remedial services.”

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