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.
About Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School
As one of the nation’s leading comprehensive medical schools, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School is dedicated to the pursuit of excellence in education, research, health care delivery, and the promotion of community health. Clinical services are provided by Robert Wood Johnson Medical School-affiliated faculty physicians as part of Rutgers Health, which, together with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, the medical school’s principal affiliate, comprise one of the nation’s premier academic medical centers. In addition, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School has 34 other hospital affiliates and ambulatory care sites throughout the region.
Part of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School encompasses 20 basic science and clinical departments, hosts centers and institutes including The Cardiovascular Institute, the Child Health Institute of New Jersey, the Institute for Neurological Therapeutics and the Women’s Health Institute. The medical school maintains educational programs at the undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate levels on its campuses in New Brunswick and Piscataway and provides continuing education courses for health care professionals and community education programs. To learn more about Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, visit rwjms.rutgers.edu. Find us online at www.facebook.com/RWJMedicalSchool and www.twitter.com/RWJMS.