Does Being Born Prematurely Change How Your Baby’s Brain Develops?

Study may shed light on how preterm babies' brains develop

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One in 10 babies in the U.S. are born prematurely, and while experts aren’t entirely sure why, a new study may shed some light on how preterm birth may impact babies’ brains.

In a recent study published in Scientific Reports, researchers used a highly sensitive MRI to take pictures of the brains of 61 full-term and 59 preterm babies to look at the differences in each. The study found that preterm babies had significantly lower levels of a chemical that’s responsible for the development of the nervous system and more of a chemical that’s responsible for cell turnover. Scientists think that this may mean that when babies are born prematurely, a very important part of their cognitive development is interrupted. The brain then tries to overcompensate for any resulting brain damage by overproducing newer healthier cells, according to Catherine Limperopoulos, Ph.D., director of the Developing Brain Research Laboratory at Children’s National and senior study author. The study also showed that damage to the nervous system and certain infections were much more common in preemies than full term babies.

This is one of the first studies of its kind to compare the brains of full-term and preterm babies. The ultimate goal is to develop cognitive treatments that can help preemies avoid long-term brain damage.

“We know that the bodies of pre-term infants demonstrate a remarkable ability to catch up with peers who were born at full-term, in terms of weight and height,” Limperopoulos told Science Daily. “Our challenge is to ensure that preemies’ brains also have an opportunity to develop as normally as possible to ensure optimal long-term outcomes.”

That said, this was a small study and more research needs to be done on the subject. What’s more, the study did have some limitations….

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