Late-Term Babies Come With Increased Cognitive Benefits, Physical Risks

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

“Late-term” children, meaning babies born in the 41st week of pregnancy, have better scores on tests and have a likelihood of being categorized as gifted during their elementary and middle school years compared to children who are born at “full term,” or at 39 or 40 weeks of gestation.

Dr. David N. Figlio of Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois spoke to Reuters Health through email, saying:

“It has been well-established that late-term births are associated with higher levels of neonatal health problems. But due to data limitations, we haven’t been able to look well beyond birth to see whether these problems persist, or if there are other potential benefits of late-term births.”

Figlio says that the new study shows that children born in late-term do continue to have a likelier risk of health problems when they become school-aged, but these same young people also have a raised likelihood of “cognitive benefits.”

The research team compared students’ Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) scores at 8-years-old through 15-years-old for over 320,000 early-term children, almost 720,000 kids born at full-term, and roughly 120,000 youngsters born late-term. Along with this research, the team examined whether the Florida Department of Education classified the youths as gifted. Young people involved in the study were born between 1998 and 2013.

All the participants in the study were single births, and 80% attended public schools. All the children were born between 37 and 41 weeks of gestation, writes Yvette Brazier for Medical News Today. The analysis of the data took place between April 2013 and January 2016.

Another measure used in the research to determine poor cognitive outcome was scoring in the fifth percentile of FCAT test-takers, or being exempted from the FCAT because of a disability.

Physical results for the subjects were measured by abnormal conditions as an infant and physical disabilities listed in school records. Included were Exceptional Student Education placement because of such conditions as speech, orthopedic, or sensory impairment or conditions that necessitated lengthy hospital stays or being home-bound.

Dr. Figlio notes that the findings may assist parents and doctors when deciding on whether to induce labor. The authors noted:

“While this article does not constitute a course of action for clinicians, our findings provide useful long-term information to complement the extant short-term data for expectant parents and physicians who are considering whether to induce delivery at full term or wait another week until late term.”

The study was published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics on June 6, 2016. It found that late-term babies ranked better than full-term infants in all three cognitive dimensions, which were higher average test scores, a 2.8% higher probability of being “gifted,” and a 3.1% reduction in the odds of poor cognitive outcomes.

But late-term babies had a 2.1% higher rate of physical disabilities when they became school age and a higher likelihood of abnormal conditions at birth.

The University of Florida website quotes Dr. Figlio:

“These results are modest, but still meaningful,” Figlio said. “While late-term gestation is associated with somewhat higher rates for physical problems, it’s also associated with better cognitive outcomes.”