Sometimes babies are born premature, which means before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Based on their post-menstrual age at birth, premature babies can be divided into extremely preterm (before 28 weeks), very preterm (between 28-31 weeks), moderate (32-33 weeks) and near term or late preterm (34-37 weeks).
Although the causes for premature birth are not completely understood, prematurity is not uncommon. A combination of multiple factors may play a role, such as socio-economic factors, genetic influences, medical conditions, pregnancy history or due to the use of assisted reproductive technologies. The World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that premature birth occurs in one out of ten pregnancies world-wide. It has also been indicated that the amount of premature births is increasing.
However, with advancements in perinatal care, the number of prematurely born babies that survive is increasing as well, which can result in high physical, psychological and economical costs.
Preterm babies undergo substantially different brain development, compared to term-born babies. Unfortunately this can lead to neurodevelopmental impairment. Such impairments can include motor, auditory, visual and cognitive function or mental disorders such as autism or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Wood and colleagues, for example, have suggested that approximately 50% of extremely preterm infants have some sort of impairment at 30 months of age.
Unfortunately, the question of how to determine which premature babies need help in the long run remains an open challenge. Therefore, the investigation of neonates (new born babies) is of great interest with much effort expended on finding ways of identifying the group of neonatal patients that need special attention. Special attention in this case means the possibility of an early intervention to either reduce severity of the condition or prevent negative long-term outcomes. Furthermore, targeted support is also of great importance, not only for the children themselves, but also for their families.