Summary: Children born between 37 – 41 weeks gestation may have an advantage when it comes to educational achievement. Researchers found longer gestational age was significantly associated with better performance in tests of math, languages, social studies, and science at age nine. Children born at 41 weeks performed better in all areas, especially mathematics.
Source: Rutgers University
Even at term, gestational age may have an impact on children’s academic performance, findings of a new study suggest. The research showed an association between gestational age at term and above-average rankings in a number of academic subjects.
The study, published in Pediatrics, compared teacher-reported outcomes for 1,405 9-year-old children in the United States, analyzing performance in mathematics, science and social studies, and language and literacy, for those born at 37 through 41 weeks gestation. It found that longer gestational age was significantly associated with average or above-average rankings in all areas.
It also suggested a general pattern of worse outcomes for children born at early term (37-38 weeks) and better outcomes for those born at late term (41 weeks), compared with those born at term (39-40 weeks). An intriguing finding was that late-term birth was significantly associated with improved mathematics outcomes.
The findings highlight the importance of gestational age, even among term infants, noted Nancy E. Reichman, professor of pediatrics at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School’s Child Health Institute of New Jersey, and one of the study authors.
“We hope that these findings will stimulate future research and data collection on the topic, in order to build a more substantial evidence base. More and better data are needed, particularly in the United States, that can allow researchers to link gestational age to educational outcomes throughout the full range of gestational age and to control for relevant potentially confounding factors,” Reichman said.
Reichman’s team plans to further investigate associations between gestational age at term and children’s and young adults’ cognitive and behavioral outcomes at different ages, she said.
Moreover, although the study did not specifically link findings to obstetric interventions/induced labor, Reichman said that “the findings should be factored in if and when deciding to intervene before labor naturally occurs.” However, she added, “Since there have been relatively few studies of links between gestational age at term and children’s educational outcomes, particularly in the United States, it would be premature to change the national recommendation for delaying elective deliveries to 39 weeks at this point.”
In addition to Reichman, study authors included Amanda Hedges, a neonatology fellow at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School at the time of the study, and economics researchers at Rider University and Princeton University.
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Source: Rutgers University
Contact: Jennifer Forbes – Rutgers University
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Original Research: Closed access.
“Gestational Age at Term and Educational Outcomes at Age Nine” by Amanda Hedges, Hope Corman, Kelly Noonan and Nancy E. Reichman. Pediatrics
Gestational Age at Term and Educational Outcomes at Age Nine
OBJECTIVES To estimate associations between gestational age (GA) and teacher-reported academic outcomes at age 9 years among children born at term (37–41 weeks).
METHODS A secondary data analysis of 1405 children participating in a national US birth cohort study was conducted. At age 9 years, students were evaluated by their teachers in the areas of mathematics, science and social studies, and language and literacy. Unadjusted and adjusted logistic regression models of associations between GA and teacher-reported academic outcomes were estimated and neonatal morbidities were explored as potential pathways.
RESULTS A continuous measure of GA in weeks was significantly associated with above-average rankings in all areas. The associations were similar across outcomes (eg, mathematics [odds ratio (OR): 1.13; confidence interval (CI): 1.02–1.25], science and social studies [OR: 1.13; CI: 1.01–1.26], and language and literacy [OR: 1.16; CI: 1.05–1.28]) in a model that adjusted for child sex, maternal characteristics, and obstetric risk factors and delivery complications. Other specifications indicate a positive association between late term (41 weeks) and mathematics and a negative association between early term (37–38 weeks) and language and literacy, compared with term (39–40). The associations did not appear to operate through neonatal morbidity.
CONCLUSIONS The findings highlight the importance of GA, even at term. Whereas current guidelines suggest waiting until at least 39 weeks to deliver when possible, our findings add to a small group of studies suggesting that GA through 41 weeks is associated with improvements in some educational outcomes.