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5/21/17blog post

extreme low birth weight babies

By: Dr. Gregory Ramey

Advances in medical care and outstanding doctors are saving the lives of extremely low birth weight babies.  However, these infants are at a significantly greater risk for mental health problems than full-term infants according to a study published in Psychological Bulletin by Karen Mathewson and her colleagues.

Mathewson studied babies born with a weight of under 1,000 grams, which is a little over two pounds. She reviewed 41 studies involving 2,712 extremely low birthweight babies and compared them with 11,000 children born of normal weight.

Her analysis reviewed how these kids developed in childhood, as well as how they functioned as adults over a thirty-year period. The results are very concerning.

During childhood, these kids were more likely to exhibit a variety of problems, including hyperactivity, inattention, social problems and conduct problems. During adolescence, these kids continued to exhibit greater mental health problems than the control group of normal birth weight babies. Adolescents had a greater likelihood of issues with social interactions, attention, and hyperactivity.

What’s particularly noteworthy is how these babies developed as adults. They were at a significantly greater risk for depression, anxiety, and social problems.

What are the implications of this study if you are the parent of a premature baby?

  1. This doesn’t apply to all premature children. With a normal pregnancy lasting 40 weeks, babies are classified as premature if they are born three weeks early. The authors reported that premature babies now make up about 8% of all births, a 30% increase over the past 20 years. However, this research did not evaluate all premature babies, only those born with an extremely low birth weight. It’s unknown if these results apply to all children born prematurely, or only those at the extreme end of the spectrum.
  1. Don’t confuse probability with certainty. As a group, these infants have an increased likelihood of problems throughout adulthood. However, that doesn’t mean that all babies born with an extremely low birth rate will have such issues.
  1. Early identification is key. If you are the parent of such a baby, educate yourself about normal childhood development. If you have any concerns, don’t wait to seek guidance in the hope that problems will pass.

I understand this is a bit of a dilemma, as you don’t want to become hypervigilant and see problems that aren’t there. However, when in doubt, seek help.

  1.  Find a great specialist. Seek the guidance of your doctor, and don’t be reluctant to ask and even demand for a referral to a developmental pediatrician.  Do some research to determine if your physician has specialized training and experience in caring for such kids.  

Gregory Ramey, PhD., Executive Director

psychology
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