Early Childhood

Timing of Birth for Full-Term Babies May Impact Test Scores

By Julie Rasicot — July 11, 2012 1 min read
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When I was nearing the end of my pregnancy with my second child, I was so ready for the baby to be born that I strapped my older daughter in her stroller and pushed her up and down the hills of our neighborhood. My water broke early the next morning and I delivered a healthy, 8-pound baby girl two weeks before her due date.

I might not have taken that walk if I’d known that being born even just two weeks early might have an impact on my child’s academic success, as a recent study suggests.

Conducted by researchers at Columbia University Medical Center and New York-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City, the study found that full-term babies born on the later side of the normal gestational period of 37 to 41 weeks performed better on standardized reading and math tests in 3rd grade than their peers who were born earlier. The study was published in the journal Pediatrics.

Researchers analyzed data from more than 128,000 New York City public school kids born between the full-term range in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The scores on standardized tests that students took at age 8 were “significantly lower” for children born at 37 and 38 weeks than for kids born at 39, 40, or 41 weeks, the study abstract says.

However, the New York Daily News described the differences in test scores between the younger and older group of kids as small: 2.3 percent of those born at 37 weeks had “severely poor reading skills” and 1.1 percent had “at least moderate problems in math,” compared to 1.8 percent and 0.9 percent respectively for those born at 41 weeks.

Perhaps more significantly, those born at 37 weeks were “a third more likely to have severe reading difficulty in 3rd grade, and had a 19 percent greater chance of having moderate problems in math,” the newspaper reported.

Researchers suggested that the results should give pause to women who may schedule Caesarean births for convenience.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.