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Study: Early Full-Term Babies May Face Developmental Delays in School

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For most moms-to-be, waiting through those final weeks of pregnancy to give birth and meet their new son or daughter often feels like an eternity. However, a new study published online today in Pediatrics suggests that babies may need more time for brain development in utero, and that 37 weeks (the beginning of what is considered “full-term”) might not be long enough for the brain to fully develop, reports the Associated Press.

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With a growing number of women and their doctors scheduling inductions and elective c-sections out of convenience rather than medical necessity, researchers became interested in the consequences of removing baby from the womb earlier than necessary.

In order to test their theory, doctors observed 128,000 New York City public school children. Of these students, 2.3 percent of children born at 37 weeks had extremely poor reading skills, and 1.1 percent had difficulties in math. However, of students born at 41 weeks, 1.8 percent had reading difficulty, and 0.9 had trouble in math.

Compared with babies born at 41 weeks, those born at 37 weeks faced a 33 percent greater chance of having severe reading difficulty in the third grade and a 19 percent greater chance of having moderate problems in mathematics.

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This research "will cause quite a stir," Dr. Judy Aschner, a pediatrics professor and neonatology director at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told the AP.

"There are still a lot of babies who are being delivered more or less electively at 37 and 38 weeks, with people thinking, ‘This is no big deal—these babies are full-term.’ I think this is a big deal," Dr. Aschner said.

While there are many other factors that could be affecting the learning abilities of these children, such as home environment, nutrition, and genetics, the numbers are significant, and should be considered by those hoping to schedule an elective birth.

Dr. Aschner explained that she didn’t want to “panic moms whose babies come at 37 weeks [naturally], but those elective early deliveries really need to stop."

Do you think women should be able to schedule the births of their children at 37 weeks based on convenience? How many weeks pregnant were you when your baby was born?

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