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Parents Should Know About This Increased Risk in Preemie Babies

Photograph by Twenty20

As if parents of premature and low birth weight babies didn’t have enough to worry about. Now they can add the risk of their child developing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to their list of fears.

Recently, researchers from the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul in Porto Alegre, Brazil, analyzed data from 12 previous studies that included 1,787 participants. They discovered a 300 percent higher risk for developing ADHD later in life among babies that had a shorter gestation time and weighed very little at birth. Their findings were published in the December issue of Pediatrics.

Researchers focused on the most vulnerable of preemie and low birth weight newborns—babies born before 32 weeks and babies weighing less than 3.3 pounds—and compared them to babies born near, at or past 37 weeks and weighing 5.5 pounds or more.

And what did they find?

“There is robust evidence that very preterm or very low birth weight individuals have an increased risk of ADHD,” said senior study author Dr. Carlos Renato Moreira-Maia. ADHD is a disorder whose symptoms include difficulty paying attention and controlling impulses.

And while that diagnosis is challenging news for parents, the good news is that there are steps they can take to mitigate those risks. Joel Nigg, director of the ADHD and Attention Disorders Program at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, wrote in an accompanying commentary that women who have preemies or underweight babies might still be able to decrease the risks of ADHD in various ways.

Nigg recommends breastfeeding infants as long as possible. Extended breastfeeding has been linked to a lower likelihood of developing ADHD­. Also, as parents are more educated about the risks, they can anticipate and tailor treatment to their child as they develop.

If you are aware that your child is at a higher risk, you can identify warning signs that might otherwise go undetected until much later. Early identification and intervention mean that your child can get help sooner rather than later.

In the end, the more we know, the better we can advocate for our kids and their needs.

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