Early term babies 'have more health problems than full-term infants'

Babies born as late as 37 or 38 weeks suffer more health problems than full-term infants, maternal and newborn health research has shown.

A study conducted by a team at the Universities of Leicester, Oxford, Liverpool and Warwick in the UK, as well as the country's National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit, found a strong association between an increased risk of illness and decreasing gestation times.

The investigation, the findings of which were published on bmj.com, involved 18,000 British babies born between September 2000 and August 2001 and discovered infants delivered at 33 to 36 weeks were more likely to suffer from asthma and wheezing.

Even those who arrived just two to three weeks early were more likely to be readmitted to hospital in their first few months.

Health outcomes were measured when the children were followed up at the ages of nine months, three years and five years, with disease at the latter two assessments most strongly linked to being born moderate to late preterm or early term.

The authors said further investigation is needed to identify the factors influencing the health of infants delivered before 39 weeks' gestation to improve obstetrics services and the planning of treatment for youngsters.

A study recently published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology found mothers are at an increased risk of stillbirth when having a second baby if their first child was born prematurely or small for gestational age.