Learning difficulties such as deafness and autism are more common among babies born a week early, according to research.
Children born after 39 weeks were found to be more likely to require help at school than babies who spent 40 weeks in the womb, a study of more than 400 British children found.
Experts said the results “suggest that deliveries should ideally wait until 40 weeks of gestation because even a baby born at 39 weeks…has an increased risk of Special Educational Needs (SEN) compared with a baby born a week later”.
The rate of births that occur between 37 to 39 weeks has risen to around a third, as more mothers opt for earlier deliveries due to non-medical reasons.
Nearly 18,000 of the 408,000 schoolchildren across Scotland analysed in the NHS-funded study were classed as having an SEN, such as dyslexia or autism, or a physical difficulty such as deafness or poor vision.
A total of 8.4% of the children who were born pre-term were found to have a learning difficulty, compared with just 4.7% for those born at-term. The study also found that compared to children born at 40 weeks, children born between 37 and 39 weeks were 1.16 times as likely to have an SEN.
“These findings, which are likely to be accurate because of the large size of the study and its design, have important implications for the timing of elective delivery,” the study said.