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Does Prematurity at Birth Cause Developmental Delays?

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Prematurity has been linked to a host of long-term complications, many of which result from trauma at birth. For children born premature, the immediate effects of a birth injury may precede developmental problems that arise years down the road. As evidence of this phenomenon, a recent study published in the journal eNeuro, discovered a connection between premature birth and developmental delays.

The study’s findings indicate that delays in the development of the auditory cortex, which plays a critical role in proper hearing and processing of sound, are more likely to occur in babies delivered in the first few weeks of the third trimester. The research also found a link between delays and disruptions in the structural development of the auditory cortex and issues with key communication functions in preterm infants. Importantly, it revealed a link between premature birth and delayed development of speech and language skills.

How Prematurity Affects the Brain

The medical community defines “prematurity” as birth that occurs prior to 37 weeks of gestation. Keep in mind, a baby is considered “full term” at 40 weeks. As with all parts of the body, a child’s brain develops throughout the gestation process, making it more vulnerable to brain damage before the child reaches full term. The auditory cortex is an essential part of the brain, meaning it may also be more prone to damage if a baby is premature. So how does the auditory part of the brain develop in the womb? When can a fetus “hear?”

According to previous research, the brain begins developing the structures necessary for hearing in the first trimester. By 15 weeks, a fetus has some sensitivity to external stimuli and the neural groundwork necessary for speech and language has been laid. By 25 weeks, the auditory system is functioning at some level, meaning a fetus can detect and respond to auditory indications. Although the auditory cortex and related brain structures are partially developed in utero, the auditory system is not fully developed until approximately 6 months after the child is born.

Preterm Birth & Language, Speech Developmental Delays

The purpose of this study was to examine the impact of prematurity on the development of the auditory cortex region and further, to determine if preterm infants experience delays in the development of speech and language functions. Since proper auditory functioning is directly correlated with speech and language skills, the study’s authors hypothesized that delays and damage to the auditory cortex region in preterm infants would lead to speech and language delays/difficulties as well.

Researchers used MRI brain imaging technology to examine the auditory cortex regions of preterm infants when compared with babies delivered at full term. The premature infants had all been treated in the neonatal intensive care unit after birth, while the full-term infants had proper brain function confirmed by brain scans within 4 days after delivery.

Overall, the study found delayed development of the cortical structures necessary for hearing in the premature babies. Notably, the premature infants born earlier in third trimester experienced more developmental delays that those born closer to full term. Further, the brain imaging comparison showed poorer communication skills at two years old for preterm infants. This provides a critical link between preterm auditory brain development disruption or delay, and lasting issues with communication abilities. Moreover, the authors noted that impairments in speech and language processing can lead to difficulties with learning.

Developmental Delays after Premature Birth in New Jersey

The potential for birth injuries and resulting complications have long been associated with preterm birth. The full impacts of disruption in brain development caused by birth trauma in preterm infants cannot be fully grasped without further study. However, science has established a correlation between vulnerability to birth injuries and brain damage in premature babies. In light of the significant findings in this recent research, parents of children born premature may notice developmental delays related to language, speech, and learning as well.

If your child suffered trauma during premature birth and you are interested in learning more about your legal options, contact our New Jersey birth injury attorneys today. We can help answer questions about the legal avenues available to you if your baby experienced injuries and complications associated with preterm birth. Call 866-708-8617 or fill out our online form to arrange a free consultation.

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