Although a premature birth can lead to impaired cognitive skills, most babies will end up performing well in school, according to new research.

Despite prior studies suggesting that preemies go on to struggle academically, findings from Policy Research at Northwestern University and Northwestern Medicine indicate two-thirds of babies born at 23 or 24 weeks were ready to start kindergarten on time.

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"What excites me about this study is that it changes the focus for the clinician and families at the bedside from just focusing on the medical outcomes of the child to what the future educational outcomes might be for a child born early," study author Dr. Craig Garfield said in a statement.

In the study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, researchers analyzed data from more than 1.3 million babies born with gestational ages of 23 to 41 weeks who were enrolled in the Florida public school system. Their vital statistic records were matched with their school records to see if being born early affected how they did in school.

The findings revealed that babies born extremely early often didn’t do well on standardized tests, but those born 25 weeks or later performed almost as well as full-term infants. The scientists were surprised to discover that 2 percent of the kids even achieved gifted status in school, meaning they performed exceptionally well in the classroom.

"While some people might be troubled that very premature infants tend to score well below their full-term peers on standardized tests, I believe that the glass is more than half-full," said senior author David Figlio.  "Most infants born at 23 to 24 weeks still demonstrate a high degree of cognitive functioning at the start of kindergarten and throughout school."

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Although the study included a large set of data, it doesn’t account for outside factors that may have helped preemies to succeed in school such as biological make-up or extra support from family or teachers, Garfield noted.

"Our future work in this area will focus on what parents and service providers can do to help future premature children to achieve their full potential," Garfield said.

Any baby that is born three weeks or earlier before they are due is considered a preemie. Most often, the earlier a baby is born, the more complications they will face. In the infant’s first weeks of life, complications can already begin including problems with breathing, temperature control, metabolism, the immune system, and heart and brain function. Long-term complications can also occur such as cerebral palsy, vision problems, behavioral and psychological issues, and chronic health problems, according to Mayo Clinic.  

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