Babies born just a few weeks early are at higher risk of poor health than full-term babies, according to research published in the British Medical Journal.
Researchers from the Universities of Leicester, Liverpool, Oxford, Warwick and the National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit studied over 18,000 British babies born between September 2000 and August 2001.
They assessed the health of the children at nine months, three years and five years.
They looked at height, weight and BMI, as well as taking note of the number of hospital visits, long-standing illness, disability or infirmity, wheezing, use of prescribed medication and overall rating of the child’s health.
The authors report that those born between 32 and 36 weeks and 37 to 38 weeks, required re-admission to hospital in the first few months more often than full term babies those born between 39 and 41 weeks. Those born between 33 and 36 weeks had an increased risk of asthma and wheezing compared to full term babies.
A strong correlation was found between decreasing gestation and increasing risk of poor health outcomes.
The greatest contribution to disease at the age of both three and five was being born between 32 and 38 weeks.
The study discovered that mothers of children born at less than 37 weeks were more likely to be single, less likely to have educational qualifications or work in managerial positions. Mothers of very preterm babies were more likely to smoke and less likely to breast feed for four or more months than those delivered at or beyond 37 weeks.