Scientists analyzed the test scores of hundreds of thousands of children aged 8 through 15 from Florida who were born early-term, full-term and late-term. The analysis suggests those babies born late-term or in the 41st week of pregnancy are likelier to be classed as 'gifted' in elementary and middle school. There seems to be a trade-off between heightened cognitive performance and health -- late-term babies are likelier to have health problems later in life.
It's an established fact that children born late-term might experience physical health problems as they grow up, but the extent of this wasn't clear, nor were the potential benefits.
Dr. David N. Figlio and colleagues at Northwestern tapped into the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) database to compare test results for 320,000 children born early-term, nearly 720,000 born at full-term, and almost 120,000 born late-term.
The statistical analysis showed late-term infants got higher scores, a greater percentage were classified as gifted and a smaller percentage had poor cognitive outcomes. On the other hand, late-term born children were also likelier to have abnormal physical conditions at birth and disabilities at school age compared to full-term infants.
Specifically, the difference in cogntive performance and health outcomes were about half the size of the difference between full-term and early-term infants, the authors report in JAMA Pediatrics. Previously, Figlio and colleagues showed that heavier newborns have an academic edge.
"A statistical study is just one piece of evidence that expectant parents should consider when thinking of the 'right' time to give birth," Dr. Figlio told Reuters Health. "Physicians have a tremendous amount of information about maternal and fetal health in each specific pregnancy."
The findings might help parents more informed decisions about how they want to deliver their baby.
"I imagine that some families, in cases of routine, low-risk, uncomplicated pregnancies, would opt for assuming a modestly higher risk of physical issues in order to achieve modestly higher chances of better cognitive outcomes, and other families would opt for modestly lower chances of good cognitive outcomes in order to achieve modestly better chances of physical health," Dr. Figlio said.