Premature babies have higher risk of death in young adulthood, study finds

Premature infants at risk for young mortality. Photo via karen andrews.

A new study published in the American Journal of Medicine has found that premature babies have a higher risk of death in early adulthood than babies born at full term. The study, conducted by Dr. Casey Crump of Stanford University, used Swedish medical records to track 674,820 births. Of these 4.1%, 27 667 babies, were preterm (37 weeks or less of gestation) births.

The study followed these babies from the 1970’s until they were 29 to 36 years old and found that babies born in the late preterm stage – 34 to 36 weeks- had an 53% increased rate of death from ages 1 through 5, a rate which dropped to 31% after the age of 18. In fact even babies born a few weeks earlier than the delivery date showed an increase risk of death in later decades.  The risk of death in the first few years of life was expected but thought to drop as the child reached maturity. The new study found that the risk of relative death increased in young adulthood, which was surprising to the researchers. Dr. Crump said the new study helped emphasize the importance of prenatal care amongst pregnant women.

“It’s extremely important for pregnant women to have regular prenatal care to reduce their risk of delivering preterm. And also, for survivors of preterm births to avoid other risk factors for disease, like smoking or obesity, in order to offset the increased risk that we found.”

Preterm babies risk of death later on in life was associated with heart, respiratory and endocrine disorders as well as from congenital anomalies but not with neurological disorders. These risks are worrisome because they may have cumulative health effects which would explain the reemergence of relative risk of death in young adulthood.

The risks of death are reported as relative risk, not absolute. Dr. Crump explained that the absolute risk of death amongst pre term babies is still only 1 in 1,000 per year. Still the ramifications of this include more careful health watches for premature babies and maintaining a healthier lifestyle.

Sources:, The New York Times, Time HealthLand