The findings were published online June 7 in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Andrew Colin, M.D., Batchelor Professor of Cystic Fibrosis and Pediatric Pulmonology and director of the Pulmonary Division at the Miller School, served as lead author of the review article titled “Respiratory morbidity and lung function in preterm infants of 32 to 36 weeks’ gestational age.”
“It has previously been thought that late-preterm infants, generally those born at 34 to 36 weeks’ gestational age, were as physiologically and metabolically mature as term infants, and thus at low risk for morbidity and mortality,” explains Colin. “But there is a growing body of literature that has documented a broad range of complications in this group, including an increased tendency to acquire common infections that evolve to complicated infections, but more importantly, deficits in lung function that may not fully correct over time. The review also presents the developmental-physiologic underpinning of the increase in morbidity.”
The team of three researchers searched the literature from 2000 to 2009. During that period they identified 24 studies that reported respiratory morbidity, complications, and physiological changes in populations that included late preterm infants.
“The articles we reviewed showed that respiratory vulnerability of these babies, usually considered to be at low risk for such problems, is more similar to that of very premature infants than to full-term ones,” said Colin. “The review shows that for some physiologic parameters, deficits in lung function during early life have been shown to persist into early adulthood, and may increase the risk for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease later in life.”
Late-preterm infants account for nearly three-quarters of all preterm births in the United States – more than 350,000 newborns per year, and growing. Dr. Colin and his colleagues conclude that “substantial research efforts are needed to move toward a more scientific approach in this population