Research indicating that children born premature are more likely to face reduced life chances and wellbeing in later life has recently received national UK newspaper coverage.
In quoting research led by Dr Saroj Saigal at McMaster University in Canada, this coverage has claimed that, as adults, babies born prematurely at low birth weights are more likely to get paid less, be single, have less confidence and are less likely to have children of their own than their normal-birth-weight-term counterparts.
These headlines have drawn on the Canadian research team’s comparison of 100 extremely low-birth-weight (ELBW) adults aged between 29 and 36 with 89 people who were all of the same ages but born at a healthy weight. (Any baby born weighing less than 1,000 grams – 2.2lbs – falls into the ELBW category.)
Bliss Chief Executive Caroline Davey said: "We must remember that babies born premature are not all the same and develop in different ways, and that this study draws on a very small sample (100 babies) born outside the UK and at a time when neonatal care was very different from today. There have been considerable medical advances in the care of premature babies in the thirty to forty years since those in this study were born.
"While some babies born premature will develop ongoing health care needs as they become adults, recent media coverage has also quoted Dr Saigal, in commenting on the results of the study, as saying that overall the majority of extremely premature adults are living independently and contributing well to society."
Caroline Davey added: "Babies born premature are not all the same and develop in different ways. It is therefore vital that every baby receives the best possible care when they are born, as well as any additional support they may need during their early years and childhood, in order to reach their full potential."
In particular, evidence shows that high levels of parental involvement in a baby’s care from birth onwards, including skin-to-skin contact, can help support healthy development. Read more about what you can do to support the development of your premature baby.