Brain Development in Preterm Infants

December 22, 2015
Terrie Inder, MD, MBChB, Chair of the Department of Pediatric Newborn Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, explains the impact of premature birth on neonatal brain development. One in nine infants is born prematurely or around 12 percent of all births in the United States. Preterm infants may be at risk for learning problems later in life. Around 50 to 60 percent of prematurely born children will have to repeat a grade by the time they reach middle school. Dr. Inder describes how brain imaging can help predict the likelihood of learning problems. Based on these findings, additional therapy and support services may be recommended to help preterm infants avoid future learning difficulties. Environment can also play a critical role in brain development of preterm infants. Dr. Inder describes research examining the impact of auditory stimulation on neonatal brain development. Dr. Inder and colleagues found that babies exposed to environments where there was a lot of talking experienced greater language development versus babies exposed to a quiet environment. Follow up study of these children two years later found that the children in environments with more language exposure had nearly ten additional IQ points in language development compared to those who had been in quiet environments.
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