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The long-term health effects of premature birth

Many people, when they hear that a baby has been born prematurely, assume that the only consequence of a preterm birth is low birth weight. This is not only inaccurate, but also, a dangerous misconception. Researchers and health care providers along have long associated premature birth with several damaging and long-term health effects. While that is not to say that all preterm babies in Washington will experience adverse health effects throughout their lives, those that do often experience developmental delays, trouble breathing or even premature death.

According to Medline Plus, a premature birth is one that occurs anytime before 37 weeks of gestation. Almost one out of every 10 infants born in the United States is premature. A full-term pregnancy is 40 weeks.

Crucial growth and development occur throughout a pregnancy, particularly in the final months, weeks and even days. When a baby is born prematurely, he or she may weigh much less than full-term babies and demonstrate health problems that are the result of organs that did not have enough time to develop.

According to March of Dimes, prematurity can cause health issues for individual throughout their entire lives. Some problems, such as breathing problems, may be present immediately, while others, such as developmental delays, may not appear for years. Some developmental delays researchers have linked to premature birth include learning disorders, slow physical development, inability to communicate clearly or get along with others and inability to care for oneself. Long-term disabilities associated with preterm birth include ADHD, anxiety and cerebral palsy.

Studies have also linked premature birth to breathing problems such as asthma and bronchopulmonary dysplasia, a chronic lung disease that causes the lungs to grow abnormally or become inflamed. Premature babies are also at risk of more easily developing hearing problems, vision loss, dental issues, intestinal problems and infections.