Premature birth is associated with increased risk of developmental delays and death. Researchers in Malawi have concluded that these delays affect premature infants well into the second year of life. Premature is defined as birth occurring before the 37th week of gestation. The study included nearly 2,300 women in Malawi. Of the births in the study, nearly 250 were premature and nearly 600 were full term.

According to the study outcome, premature infants have a nearly two-fold increased risk of death in the first two years of life compared to full term infants. In the study, 27 of the premature infants died while only 37 of the full term infants died. That means nearly 11% of the infants born premature died within the first two years of life compared to just 6% of full term infants.

During follow-ups at one year, 18 months and two years, premature infants showed significant developmental delays. In addition to developmental delays, premature infants in the study continued to be underweight compared to children born full term.

Malawi is a low-income country in south-east Africa. Studies on low-income families, pregnancy and premature birth are important because low-income families are less likely to get the prenatal care they need to ensure a healthy, full term pregnancy. Most studies, however, focus on the prenatal period and not the post natal period. Researchers in this study suggest after-birth care and nutrition classes to reinforce the need for healthy, nutritious meals and regular post natal infant and child care.

According to the authors of the study, “Further detailed qualitative and longitudinal studies to assess the causal mechanisms for these problems would be extremely beneficial. Along with these studies, post-neonatal interventions need to be [trialed] that might improve outcomes in this group of preterm born children.”

Source: Gladstone M, White S, Kafulafula G, Neilson JP, van den Broek N. PLoS Medicine. 2011.