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Research shows potential connection between brain functioning and preterm delivery, P.1

Something like 10 percent of births in the United States every year is premature.

Premature delivery can present serious risks for both mothers and their children, and medical professionals are expected to follow accepted standards of care in handling pregnancy-related care to minimize these risks. Both before and after childbirth, physicians are expected to pay attention to signs of risk and take appropriate steps to manage those risks.

The science of prenatal care, of course, is continually developing and physicians are expected to keep up with the research and make informed decisions in caring for patients. Exactly what causes preterm delivery is not known in every case, nor is the connection between preterm delivery and various developmental conditions fully understood. A recent study by the Yale School of Medicine, though, may shed a bit of light on the latter point. 

According to the study, the same factors that contribute to preterm delivery may also affect brain development in the womb, potentially contributing to conditions like autism, cerebral palsy and ADHD. The study looked at 32 developing babies, 14 of which were delivered early, and measured brain functioning using magnetic resonance imaging. Researchers found that neural connectivity was not as strong in the babies who were later delivered preterm compared to the babies carried to term.

Interestingly, the neural connectivity issues were specifically seen in the left-hemisphere, in the area associated with pre-verbal functioning. It isn't known yet what long-term results will be seen in the preterm infants in the study as far as brain functioning, or whether some causes of preterm delivery can cause problems with neural connectivity. More study needs to be done.

In our next post, we'll continue looking at this issue and the potential impact the research could have on medical malpractice litigation. 

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