Don’t jack with nature: Electively shortening pregnancy causes higher risk of disease for the child
08/16/2018 // Frances Bloomfield // Views

Expecting women, beware: Having your babies early can increase their risk of heart- and lung-related complications later in life. This is the warning issued by the researchers behind a recent study, which joins the growing body of work connecting premature births to health risks.

Led by Dr. Isabel Ferreira of the University of Queensland, the team examined the cardiorespiratory health of 791 Northern Ireland participants with the ages of 12, 15, and 22. Cardiorespiratory fitness was defined as the body's ability to supply oxygen to the muscles during physical activity. All of the participants were born within 37 to 42 weeks, the range for full-term pregnancies. For the purposes of their study, the team measured each participant's maximal oxygen uptake level after they underwent standardized physical tests. Determining this involved monitoring the heart rates and respiration of every participant as they ran laps or shuttles, and then using the numbers to ascertain the participant's cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) scores.

The participants who were born in early term (37 to 38 weeks) scored lower and had poorer performances than those who were either born at full term (39 to 30 weeks) or late (41 to 42 weeks). These results were independent of smoking habits, diet, and level of physical activity. Moreover, the researchers estimated that early term births have a 57 percent higher risk of developing sub-par cardiorespiratory fitness in the middle of adolescence and well into young adulthood. The researchers further stated that each additional week spent in the womb reduced the chances of poor cardiorespiratory fitness by about 14 percent.


Based on the strong links between cardiorespiratory fitness and cardiometabolic risk factors, the researchers noted that individuals born early term may be at greater risk of other chronic health conditions as well. These include high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome, Type 2 diabetes, and even cardiovascular events.

“We believe that earlier births — even within the at-term range — may interrupt normal development and lead to permanent changes of tissues and organs, thereby affecting cardiorespiratory fitness. As such, recent trends towards deliveries at shorter gestational lengths within the at-term period are worrisome,” Ferreira told

According to the mother and child health advocacy organization March of Dimes, the rate of premature births in the United States has only just begun to decline after decades of steady increase. Even then, the number of premature babies born in the country each year comes in at 380,000. While some women undergo early labor due to causes beyond their control, some choose to have early-term labor inducements or cesarean sections for one reason or another.

Ferreira has expressed hope that their findings will discourage expecting women from this practice. “Healthcare providers and mothers should be informed of the lifelong health risks that early-term deliveries may have on their offspring and refrain from these,” said Ferreira, who stressed that women should opt for early-term deliveries only if medically and absolutely necessary. (Related: Waiting two minutes before cutting umbilical cords improves early newborn development.)

In addition to the raised risk of heart and lung problems, premature babies are more susceptible to a whole score of health issues that include but aren't limited to:

  • Jaundice -- Also known as hyperbilirubinemia, this condition results in the yellowing of the skin and eyes. Jaundice typically manifests in babies when their livers haven't fully developed or are unable to function properly.
  • Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) -- A serious disease that usually affects premature infants, NEC occurs when the intestinal tissues sustain damage and begin to die off. Babies with NEC will often experience feeding problems, diarrhea, and a swollen abdomen, and will sometimes excrete bloody stools.
  • Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) -- This disease causes abnormal blood vessels to grow in the retina, and may lead to the retina detaching from the back of the eye, bringing about blindness.

Visit to read up on more stories covering pregnancy and childbirth.

Sources include: 1 2

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