Babies Born Prematurely Don't Do Worse In School, Encouraging Study Finds

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Parents of premature babies have often worried about possibly long term effects on their child as they grow. Will they ever be able to "catch up," to develop at the same rate as their peers, or will they lag behind? Will they perform well in school? A new study looked at the affect of being born prematurely on academic performance, and the results will hopefully be a comfort to parents.

Researchers from the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University and Northwestern Medicine performed a large scale, population-based study that was published online by Jama Pediatrics. The study looked at more than 1.3 million children born in Florida between 1992 and 2002, with gestational ages from 23 to 41 weeks. The results of the study were encouraging; approximately two-thirds of children with gestational ages of 23 or 24 weeks were found to be ready to start kindergarten on time. Interestingly enough, the study also noted that around 2 percent of children born early tested as "gifted" in school. Dr. Craig Garfield, the study's lead author and an associate professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, told Northwestern News he was encouraged by these results:

What excites me about this study is that it changes the focus for the clinician and families at the bedside from just focusing on the medical outcomes of the child to what the future educational outcomes might be for a child born early.
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The scientists matched up babies' vital statistics with their Florida public school records to compare and contrast average academic performance. This is the first time that a large-scale study has looked at the potential co-relation between gestational age and kindergarten readiness. Dr. Garfield noted, according to Science Daily:

What’s special about this study is it speaks to the importance of administrative data sets and the ability to combine different data sets in ways that allow us to ask questions and get answers about how our children are doing in the long-run.

While this is good news for parents, the researchers pointed out that qualifying factors like infants' medical issues at birth, extra help at home, or biological makeup were not taken into account in the study, according to Parents magazine. Dr. Garfield told the publication that the researchers plan to look into these factors in the future, according to Parents magazine:

Our future work in this area will focus on what parents and service providers can do to help future premature children to achieve their full potential.

Giving birth prematurely is stressful enough without having to worry about your child's academic readiness down the road. Hopefully this study will ease at least a little stress for parents.