OBJECTIVE: To compare developmental outcomes of late preterm infants (34–36 weeks’ gestation) with infants born at early term (37–38 weeks’ gestation) and term (39–41 weeks’ gestation), from infancy through kindergarten.
METHODS: Sample included 1000 late preterm, 1800 early term, and 3200 term infants ascertained from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort. Direct assessments of development were performed at 9 and 24 months by using the Bayley Short Form–Research Edition T-scores and at preschool and kindergarten using the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort reading and mathematics θ scores. Maternal and infant characteristics were obtained from birth certificate data and parent questionnaires. After controlling for covariates, we compared mean developmental outcomes between late preterm and full-term groups in serial cross-sectional analyses at each timepoint using multilinear regression, with pairwise comparisons testing for group differences by gestational age categories.
RESULTS: With covariates controlled at all timepoints, at 9 months late preterm infants demonstrated less optimal developmental outcomes (T = 47.31) compared with infants born early term (T = 49.12) and term (T = 50.09) (P < .0001). This association was not seen at 24 months, (P = .66) but reemerged at preschool. Late preterm infants demonstrated less optimal scores in preschool reading (P = .0006), preschool mathematics (P = .0014), and kindergarten reading (P = .0007) compared with infants born at term gestation.
CONCLUSIONS: Although late preterm infants demonstrate comparable developmental outcomes to full-term infants (early term and full-term gestation) at 24 months, they demonstrate less optimal reading outcomes at preschool and kindergarten timepoints. Ongoing developmental surveillance for late preterm infants is warranted into preschool and kindergarten.