Premature Babies Study

A study done by two Houston area institutions shows premature babies are more likely to overcome developmental challenges if they ahve mothers who are more attentive and interactive. Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports.

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Researchers at UTMB Galveston and UT Medical School Houston have been following the progress of a group of children for more than a decade. UTMB Neurology Professor Dr. Karen Smith says the study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and tracked the long-term development of premature children.

"Children that were premature were recruited back in 1990 and '91. And those are families that we followed and we saw them at six months, 12 months, 24 months, three, four, six, eight, ten and now 12 years of age."

Premature or extremely underweight babies are at increased risk of serious medical and developmental complications. The premature birth rate is on the rise, but Smith says the study shows developmental problems can be mitigated by parenting skills.

"It can be striking. You know lots of people think about standardized testing, and so by ten years of age parents -- or children who had received low-responsive parenting across early childhood wound up as much as ten or 12 IQ points lower than those who were parented with consistantly positive interactive skills across that time."

Smith, along with Dr. Susan Landry from UT Medical School, monitored parents and children in the families' homes. Smith says things like talking to babies, positive feedback and stimulating activities all help preemies. But she adds these parenting techniques can be difficult for some families.

"Children born preterm are most likely to be born into families with economic challenges. And so these are groups of parents that are working hard not only to meet their children's basic needs, but also to parent in ways that some of us think come easily but may be harder to accomplish in the face of poverty."

Smith says this study, which was published in the journal Pediatrics, may indicate doctors need to do more in the way of offering education and direction for the parents of preemies. UTMB and UT Medical School are seeking additional funding from the NIH to continue to monitor these children up to the age of 20. Laurie Johnson Houston Public Radio News.

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...