Infant Journal
for neonatal and paediatric healthcare professionals

Risk of developmental difficulties remains high among children born early

Preterm birth continues to pose a large burden for families, health care, and educational systems and these difficulties are found not only in children born extremely preterm (22-26 weeks’ gestation) but also in those born very and moderately preterm (between 27 and 34 weeks’), according to a research study published in The BMJ.

Researchers set out to describe neurodevelopment among children born before 35 weeks’ gestation compared with children born at full term. Their findings are based on 3,083 French children aged 5.5 years who were taking part in the EPIPAGE-2 study (designed to investigate outcomes of preterm children over the past 15 years) and a comparison group of 600 children born at full term.

Neurodevelopmental outcomes such as cerebral palsy, sensory impairments (blindness and deafness), and brain function (cognition), as well as behavioural difficulties and movement disorders, were assessed using recognised tests. To further assess the family and social burden of prematurity, measures such as the need for extra support at school, visits to a psychiatrist, speech therapist or physiotherapist, and parental concerns about development, were also recorded.

Although rates of severe to moderate neurodevelopmental disabilities decreased with increasing gestational age, around 35% of the moderately to extremely preterm born children had mild disabilities requiring special care or educational services. A considerable proportion of parents had concerns about their child’s development, particularly about behaviour.


Pierrat V, et al. Neurodevelopmental outcomes at age 5 among children born preterm: EPIPAGE-2 cohort study. BMJ 2021;373:n741.

Developmental difficulties remain a concern in babies born very and moderately preterm.