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Study Finds No Significant Difference in Academic Achievement Between Children Born at 39 and 40 Weeks Gestation

Large Population-Based Study Challenges Previous Notions on Gestational Age and School Performance

A comprehensive retrospective cohort study conducted in Iowa challenges existing beliefs about the relationship between gestational age and academic achievement in children born at term. The research, spanning birth data from 1989 to 2009 and school test scores from 2017 to 2018, provides unique insights into the academic outcomes of children born between 37 and 41 weeks’ gestation.

Key Findings:

  1. No Significant Difference at 39 Weeks: The study suggests that there is no substantial evidence of a difference in math and reading scores over grades 2 to 11 among children born at 39 weeks compared to those born at 40 weeks’ gestation.
  2. 41 Weeks vs 40 Weeks: Contrary to some prior studies, the research found no discernible advantage in academic performance for children born at 41 weeks compared to those born at 40 weeks, challenging assumptions about potential benefits associated with a later-term birth.
  3. Early-Term Challenges: Confirming existing literature, the study found lower math scores for children born at 37 to 38 weeks relative to those born at 40 weeks. However, the difference in reading scores was less pronounced, especially as children progressed to higher grades.

Implications for Clinical Decision-Making:

The results of this study offer valuable insights for expectant mothers and clinicians in making informed decisions about delivery timing at term. The findings suggest that delivering at 39 weeks, rather than 40 weeks, does not confer any significant academic advantage. Furthermore, there is no clear evidence supporting the idea that waiting until 41 weeks for delivery provides improved academic outcomes.

Significance of the Study:

  • Population-Based Approach: The study, encompassing over 500,000 children, stands out for its population-based approach, incorporating birth certificates and standardized school test scores.
  • Grade-by-Grade Analysis: By conducting a detailed grade-by-grade analysis from 2nd to 11th grade, the study sheds light on potential variations in academic outcomes over the course of a child’s education.
  • Informing Future Guidelines: The research contributes to discussions around delivery timing guidelines, emphasizing the need for a nuanced understanding of the relationship between gestational age and long-term academic achievement.

This study not only addresses gaps in existing literature but also underscores the need for further research to explore the broader socioeconomic implications of gestational age on long-term educational outcomes.

Credit: JAMA Network Open, George L. Wehby