Study links both pre and post-term birth to motor impairment in children

Post-term birth, in addition to pre-term and early-term birth, could lead to developmental coordination disorder (DCD) and motor impairment in children, according to the findings of research led by Nottingham Trent University (NTU).

Developmental coordination disorder (DCD) is characterized by difficulties in the execution and coordination of body movements, it is estimated that about 5–6% of children worldwide present with DCD. Pre-term birth has so far been the only risk factor that is consistently associated with DCD, either in terms of low gestational age at birth or low birthweight.

Psychologists carried out a retrospective study of more than 152,000 children aged 3–5 years from mainstream nurseries in China.

Their motor performance was assessed using the Little Developmental Coordination Disorder Questionnaire, completed by their parents. The questionnaire was divided into three subcategories: control during movement, fine motor skills and general coordination. Parents were asked to compare the performance of their pre-school child with that of children the same age and gender, and to rate their child’s performance on a five-point scale.

Researchers also took into account a wide range of confounding factors including child, family and maternal health characteristics when exploring the association between gestational age and suspected DCD.

Compared with full-term births, the results showed that children who were pre-term (born before 38 weeks) and post-term (born after 41 weeks) births were significantly more likely to have parental reports that reflected the characteristics of DCD, as classified by the questionnaire. When the researchers looked at early-term (37–38 weeks) births, they found this group—although nearing full-term—were also significantly at risk of suspected DCD. The results indicated that even a small time outside the full-term time range can lead to alternated motor development in children.

These associations remained, even after the findings were controlled for child, family, and maternal health characteristics. The findings were also more pronounced in the group of five-year old children than in three-year-old children.

Dr. Vivienne Wenchong Du, lead researcher and Associate Professor in Psychology at NTU’s School of Social Sciences, said: “Although previous research has already indicated premature birth carry a later risk of motor coordination disorders, we show that early-term term and post-term births were also associated with suspected DCD. This result has important implications for understanding motor development in children born at different gestational ages.

“Our findings may help clinical professionals and parents to consider the optimal timing of birth and make decisions in cesarean delivery or induction of labor. We also believe that long-term follow-up and rehabilitation interventions should be considered.”