Each year approximately 8% of all babies in England and Wales are born preterm at less than 37 weeks gestation. Preterm birth and the associated additional care needs are estimated to cost health services £3.4bn per year. Research on premature babies has historically focused on those born prior to 32 weeks of gestation. The relationship between being born at this early stage and an increased risk of developmental problems and disorders including cerebral palsy, special educational needs and developmental delay is well established.
As the number of babies born at the later stage of between 34 and 37 weeks of gestation is increasing worldwide, it is necessary to determine whether birth in this period has long-term effects on the infant. Current literature on late preterm infants suggests that there may be a higher risk of problems across a similar range of outcomes as those born much earlier, however research has shown mixed results and therefore further exploration is necessary.
The current study aims to explore the long-term educational, health and developmental outcomes of babies born late preterm in Wales using a mixed methods approach. A systematic literature review will be undertaken to assess the position of current knowledge in the area. Qualitative research will be conducted through interviews with health care professionals in the Swansea Bay University Health Board to establish neonatal procedures for late preterm babies, as well as clinical insight into indicators of healthy development. Paediatricians will also outline potential abnormalities resulting from early delivery across health, development and behaviour. Finally, anonymised-linked data from the SAIL databank will be utilised to investigate educational, health and developmental outcomes of babies born late preterm compared with their full term counterparts. This research will give valuable insight into whether additional support is needed for infants born late preterm.