That gestational age at birth affects the later academic achievement of premature babies is widely known. Babies who are born later but still prematurely tend to fare better than babies who are born earlier. However, in a surprising study published in the recent issue of Pediatrics, the academic success of full term babies also varies with gestational age at birth.
Researchers at Columbia University in New York sought to determine if gestation age affected the future academic success of children who were born between 37 and 41 weeks of gestation. The researchers looked at data from 128,050 singleton births in New York City between 1988 and 1992. When those children were in third grade, the researchers then looked at the children’s standardized math and reading tests. Children who were born at 37 and 38 weeks scored significantly lower on the tests than the children who had been born at 39, 40, and 41 weeks. In other words, even though all of the children had been born at full term, the children who were born earlier fared worse in terms of academic achievement that the children who were born later.
What does this research mean for parents? As a mother of a little girl who was born at 36 weeks 2 days, my initial reaction to these findings is one of alarm. Will my daughter not do as well at school because she was born earlier rather than later? Fortunately, as the researchers point out, gestational age at birth is not determinant of academic success. What this study means for parents and for teachers is that they can be more vigilant for children who might be at risk for poorer school performance by factoring in the age at which children were born. That is, caregivers can keep an eye on the children who were born earlier to make sure that they are not struggling with academic performance.
Are you worried about your child’s academic achievement because he or she was born full term but earlier?
Academic achievement varies with gestational age among children born at term: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2012/06/27/peds.2011-2157
Crying Newborn: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Crying_newborn.jpg