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Speech and language delays more likely in premature babies

Thursday 18th January 2018
Babies delivered in the early part of the third trimester are significantly more likely to experience speech and language development delays. Image: Ondrooo via iStock
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Premature babies who are delivered during the early part of their mother's third trimester of pregnancy are more likely than full-term infants to experience delays in speech and language development, according to new research.

A study carried out by scientists from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign set out to explore foetal brain development at different stages of gestation and found that foetuses are able to hear and remember sounds from around 26 weeks onwards. This shows that their brains have the ability to create memories at this time and that their ears are formed to a certain degree.

However, the auditory cortex in the brain needs time to mature and develop during the final trimester, so if a baby is delivered prematurely, their hearing ability and subsequently their speech and language development may be affected.

The scientists identified a clear link between halted development in the non-primary auditory cortex and struggles with speech and communication development during toddler years.

This therefore demonstrates just how vital it is for pre-term infants to begin receiving extra support for their individual needs as early on as possible, to make sure that they do not fall behind with their peers and are able to communicate effectively from an appropriate age.

During the study, the auditory cortex development of 90 premature babies was monitored and it was found that they were significantly more likely to experience delays in their speech and language development than those born after 39 weeks, which is deemed as full-term.

Professor Brian Monson, lead author of the study, commented: "It's exciting to me that we may be able to use this technique to help predict later language ability in infants who are born preterm.

"I hope one day we will also be able to intervene for those infants who may be at greatest risk of language deficits, perhaps even before they begin to use words."

This study has been published in full in the journal eNeuro, which is a publication of the Society for Neuroscience.

Written by Martin Lambert

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