Youngest preemies are most likely to develop neurodevelopmental problems, a new Canadian study has found.

According to the findings of the study, children born extremely pre-term are at significant risk of developing moderate to severe neurodevelopmental impairments.

The study
For the purpose of the study, Dr. Gregory Moore and his colleagues at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, Canada, looked at a close to 900 children four-to-eight years of age. All children were born pre-term, between 22 and 25 weeks of gestational age.

22 weeks is considered the earliest a baby can be born. It’s rare for infants to survive if they are born before 22 weeks.

Moderately or severely impaired children were classified as those scoring the least on IQ tests, diagnosed with cerebral palsy and those who were fully or partially deaf or blind.

Among babies born at 22 weeks, 43 percent were impaired, including 31 percent with severe impairment. The percentage of impairment reduced to 40 percent at 23 weeks, 28 percent at 24 weeks and 24 percent at 25 weeks’ gestation, the researchers highlighted.

While pre-term birth was grossly related to risk of neurodevelopmental problems, the risks dropped significantly with each extra week in the womb, researchers averred.

The findings of the study are “an important contribution to our knowledge about rates of neurodevelopmental issues facing the smallest of preemies,” Dr. Steven Miller, head of neurology at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children said.

But the findings still suggest that many children born at young gestational ages will develop well, without significant neurodevelopmental problems.

“There is obviously a large group of babies that are born very young who do beautifully, and don’t have moderate to severe impairments,” Miller said.

“And so when you look at the 24- and 25-weekers, the question we’re now asking more often is: how do we predict who’s going to do well? And if parents knew that their babies were going to do well, would that help them care for their families during a very stressful intensive care stay?”

The findings of the study are reported Monday in JAMA Pediatrics.

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