Being born extremely early has been linked to some developmental problems. But there is less to worry about if a child is born just a little early.
A recent study found that children born between 34 and 37 weeks didn't have an increased risk of learning disabilities than children born at full term.
The children born a little early were also no more likely to have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) than children born on time.
Therefore there may be no need to closely monitor children born a few weeks early for learning problems.
The study, led by Malinda N. Harris, MD, of the Department of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, looked at the risk for ADHD or other learning disabilities in children born late preterm.
Late preterm babies are born between the 34th and 37th week of pregnancy rather than on time (between 37 and 42 weeks).
The researchers looked at all children born between 1976 and 1982 in Rochester, Minnesota who stayed in the area for at least five years.
They compared the 256 children born late preterm with the 4,419 children born at full term, using the children's school and medical records through age 19.
Specifically, the researchers compared the rates of ADHD and learning disabilities in reading, language and math between the two groups of children.
The researchers did not find any higher rate of ADHD or learning disabilities in the children born slightly early.
While 7.7 percent of the late preterm children had ADHD, 7.2 percent of the full-term children had ADHD.
In addition, 14.2 percent of the late preterm children had a reading learning disability, compared to 13.1 percent of children born at full term.
A total of 13.5 percent of late preterm children had a writing learning disability, compared to 15.7 percent of full-term children.
Finally, 16.1 percent of late preterm children had a math learning disability, compared to 15.5 percent of full-term children.
None of the differences between these groups were large enough to be due to differences in the week the children were born.
The researchers wrote that "...former late preterm infants are not at increased risk for ADHD or learning disabilities in math, reading, or written language compared with former term infants."
This means that children born late preterm may not need to be followed closely or receive close developmental monitoring for ADHD or learning disabilities any more than another child would.
The study was published August 26 in the journal Pediatrics. The research was funded by Public Health Service research grants from the National Institutes of Health. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.