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Long-Term Risks For Premature Babies

The Latest Reason Preemies Might Be at a Big Disadvantage Later in Life

Despite dealing with health issues, parents of preemies might have another thing to worry about: how their child will fare later in life.

According to a new study from McMaster University, newborns with an extremely low birth weight (ELBW) are more likely to be disadvantaged by the time they reach their 30s. The study, which was published in the scientific journal JAMA Pediatrics, highlights areas where these babies might be hindered once they become adults, including employment, income, self-esteem, and marriage.

Researchers studied a group of extremely low birth weight babies, who were born weighing less than 2.2 pounds, and followed their progress compared to 89 normal birth weight babies who were born at more than 38 weeks gestation and weighed more than 5.5 pounds. Once the participants reached between 29 and 36 years old, researchers asked them a variety of questions concerning the medical, social, and psychiatric aspects of their lives.

The study found significant differences between these two groups, including:

  • Employment — ELBW babies are less likely to have jobs with 80 percent vs. 92 percent of normal birth weight participants being employed. Only 62 percent of ELBW adults had full-time jobs compared to 77 percent of normal birth weight (NBW) participants.
  • Relationships — ELBW babies are more likely to be single at 51 percent compared to 35 percent of NBW adults. Also, 21 percent of ELBW babies have never had sex compared to 2 percent of NBW babies.
  • Average Income — As adults, ELBW babies make an average of $20,000 less.
  • Family — These babies are also less likely to have children with 20 percent having kids vs. 33 percent of NBW participants.

While this study also shows significant discrepancies in alcohol abuse, learning disabilities, and mental illness, it found that extremely low birth weight babies described fewer risky behaviors as adults than their normal birth weight counterparts.

Originally, Dr. Saroj Saigal, the author of the study, didn't observe any major differences between the two groups as they were first transitioning to adulthood. "But now, they are older and are facing a competitive labor market where jobs are scarce. Also, the high proportion with neurosensory impairments accounted for many of the differences between the groups," Saigal explained.

Saigal realizes that there have been major medical improvements since these babies were first born and believes that there should be more studies on newer ELBW babies to obtain a better understanding. "We've learned a lot since then, and as a result of better nutrition and technological advances, survival of ELBW infants has now nearly doubled," Saigal described.

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