Study Links ADHD to Prematurity

04.20.11 The earlier a baby is born, the more likely he or she will be prescribed attention deficit drugs later on.

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Researchers studying more than 1 million children in Sweden have found that babies who are born prematurely have an increased risk of developing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Reuters and Yahoo! Health report.

Among the Swedish children ages 6 to 19 studied, 7,506 had a prescription for ADHD medication. Children born extremely premature (from 23 to 28 weeks) had more than double the risk of developing ADHD compared with those children who were carried to full term, according to the online news article.

However, researchers—whose findings were published in the journal Pediatrics—also "found that babies born as little as three weeks before their due dates had an elevated risk" for ADHD, the article states. Also, the Reuters-Yahoo! Health article says that 7 out of every 1,000 children born moderately premature (37 to 38 weeks) were prescribed ADHD medications.

While these findings are not new, experts note that women should take this information into consideration when planning a scheduled Cesarean section so as not to have such a delivery too early. Another point of note: It might not be the premature birth at all in some cases. Crib Notes recently reported on a study that found that a common chemical in some foods raises a child's risk of ADHD.

Check out our Ask the Experts page for more information on the early signs of ADHD.

Of course, some preterm births occur for unknown reasons and can't be prevented. But many others can be prevented, especially with medication designed for expectant women at high risk. For example, a recent USA Today article focused on a new vaginal gel that may reduce premature births in some women. Read our Preventing Prematurity page for an overview on how you can reduce your chances of having a preemie.

Maria Vega is Fit Pregnancy magazine's copy editor.