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1. Early development

Some babies born preterm may experience developmental delays in infancy. In particular, preterm children may be slow to develop fine and gross motor skills. This means they may take longer than children born at term to achieve early motor milestones such as picking up objects, crawling, and walking.

Children born preterm may also demonstrate difficulties with language and learning in the early years. Early development of language, learning and motor skills can be measured using the Ages and Stages Questionnaire. In comparison to their term-born peers, children born preterm are more likely to be identified with developmental delay in the preschool years using this questionnaire.

Not all babies born preterm will experience developmental delay; the risk increases the more preterm a baby is born. Nonetheless, serious developmental disabilities are relatively uncommon. Most children born preterm will be able to carry out daily activities such as feeding themselves and using the toilet by the time they reach school age.

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Rates of developmental delay in 4 year old children Graph

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This graph shows the results of a study carried out in the Netherlands. The study explred the rates of developmental delay among 4 year old children, measured using the Ages and Stages Questionnaires.

The y axis shows the percentage of children in each group that had developmental delay, so the higher the bars on the graph the higher the proportion of children with developmental delay.

Looking at the bar on the right, you can see that 4% of children born full term, at 38 to 41 weeks of gestation, had developmental delay at 4 years of age.

Moving to the bar in the middle, you can see that the rate of developmental delay among children born moderate and late preterm was double that of children born at term, with 8% of moderate and late preterm children having developmental delay.

Finally, the bar on the left shows that 15% of children born very preterm had developmental delay, which is almost 4 times that of children born full term.

In summary, the earlier a baby is born the greater the risk she or he will have developmental delay in the early years.

Kerstjens, J. M., de Winter, A. F., Bocca-Tjeertes, I. F., ten Vergert, E. M., Reijneveld, S. A., & Bos, A. F. (2011). Developmental delay in moderately preterm-born children at school entry. The Journal of pediatrics, 159(1), 92-98. doi: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2010.12.041.

We thank the authors for the additional data used to create this graph.