Preterm babies have a significantly higher risk for cerebral palsy (CP) and other long-term neurological disorders, according to researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and Soroka University Medical Center. The study is the first to demonstrate a critical cut-off for this significant complication in delivery before 25 weeks of gestation.

According to the study, published in Journal of Clinical Medicine, researchers identified the critical thresholds for preterm delivery that increase the chances of long-term hospitalizations for CP and other pediatric neurological disorders, including movement, developmental, degenerative, and psychiatric disorders.

CP is the most common cause of severe childhood physical disability and motor impairment. This group of permanent disorders, which forms in a fetus’s or infant’s developing brain, can also affect sensation, perception, cognition, communication, and behavior.

“Extremely premature exposure to the environment outside of the uterus may alter musculoskeletal and nervous system development, and shift the trajectory of motor development for otherwise healthy children,” says Dr. Eyal Sheiner, vice dean for academic promotion at BGU’s Faculty of Health Sciences and director of the Soroka Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology in Beer-Sheva.

In the large study, the researchers compared the outcomes of 220,563 deliveries over 23 years. They found that babies born before 25 weeks had a fourfold risk of developing long-term neurological issues and significantly increased CP rates. Each additional week of gestation, up to 37 weeks, appears to decrease the risk of long-term neurological disorders.

Other researchers that participated in the study include Dr. Gali Pariente and Dr. Shiran Zer of Soroka and BGU FOHS and Dr. Tamar Wainstock of BGU’s School of Public Health. Shayna Miodownik is a student in the BGU Medical School for International Health.

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