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Study: Most Preemies Grow Into Healthy Adults

According to a recent study, over 50 percent of infants born prematurely become healthy adults with no chronic medical problems over time. The research team reviewed over 2.5 million Swedish babies born between 1973 and 1977, following them for an average of 30 years, with 149,000 of the participants being preemies. As each of the three decades went by, the odds of the preemies’ survival into adulthood enhanced by 91 percent in the ‘70s, and 96 percent when followed up in the ‘90s.

Approximately 55 percent of the premature infants within the research had no serious mental or physical health problems by the time they hit early adults; this compared to 63 percent of babies born full-term. As lead author Dr. Casey states, the findings of the study reveal the resilience that premature babies have when it comes to keeping up with good health as they grow older.

A normal pregnancy lasts in-and-around 40 weeks, and newborns that come after the 37-week mark are considered “full-term”. In the days and weeks after their birth, preterm babies can have challenges around digesting food and breathing. Some also deal with long-term issues like impaired cognitive skills, as well as problems with hearing or vision; not to mention behavioral and social issues. 

The most recent study had a focus on chronic health, which tends to develop when a person hits adolescence or young adulthood (e.g. diabetes, mental health, asthma, etc.), and other health issues that can come up later in life, such as chronic kidney, liver, or lung diseases. 

A mere 22 percent of very preterm babies (i.e. born at 22 to 27 weeks), lived on with no major chronic health issues, and rates steadily enhanced with babies that had increased time in their mom’s womb. For example, about 49 percent of preemies born 28 to 33 weeks were alive and had good (overall) health as early adults, while that rate hit 58 percent for premature babies born at 34 to 36 weeks.

Outcomes and rates were similar, regardless of gender.

It’s important to note, the study only followed babies until they reached 30 years of age, so there may be a health difference between premature infants and full-term babies that show up later on in life. The study team also relayed that results may differ in other countries, as Sweden does have a countrywide healthcare program.