Premature birth and ADHD

Premature Baby

Severe prematurity puts children at the greatest risk of developing ADHD in later years.

I’ll let you in on a trade secret.  It’s not a devious type of secret.  Not anything that could cause anyone harm, but simply a connection that most of us who work with small children have figured out.  When a parent tells me that their child was born prematurely, I automatically question whether the child might suffer from ADHD.  Why do I do this?  Well it just so happens that preemies are 30% more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD in later years than their full term peers.

At 34 weeks gestation the overall weight of the brain is only 65% percent of what it weighs at 40 weeks gestation (full term).  Researcher suggest that a premature birth may disrupt the growth and maturation of the brain that is set to take place during the last few weeks of pregnancy.  We also know that the more premature a baby is, the higher the risk of the child developing ADHD in later years. Babies born at 33 to 34 weeks were 40% as likely to develop ADHD as full term infants, while babies born between 29 to 32 weeks were 60% more likely to develop ADHD.

But we also know that stress can lead to changes in arousal and attention (read more about the link between ADHD and stress in pregnancy here).  Now think of some of the stressors that come with a premature birth: separation from the mother, bright lights and loud noises in the Neonatal ICU, sleep deprivation – and one could begin to understand how these factors could further contribute to the development of ADHD children who were born prematurely.

If you suspect your child might be suffering from ADHD, be sure to make an appointment with a qualified mental health professional (such as an educational psychologist or a peadiatric psychiatrist) for an evaluation.  There are several interventions and treatments available that can help children with ADHD live productive and fulfilling lives and can limit the negative impact that ADHD might have on the child and his or her family.



Comments ( 3 )

  • author-hexa-bg

    Hi my son 9yrs in grade 4 struggling with reading,writing and poor concentration in class.please e- mail me your fee list because I want to evaluate if his dyslexic. My
    thank you
    Mr peters

  • author-hexa-bg

    I would like to know if you have a contact number for psychologist in Brloemfontein. My son is now 13 years old and was born at 34 weeks and has been diagnosed with add. He is on ritalin at the moment, but a GP gave it to him. I would like to see a professional about this.


  • author-hexa-bg

    I just read the factors contributing to child failure due to premature. My son may be one of these kids as he has been failing his Grade4 throughout the year and has yo repeat it UB 2016.

    May I please get the contact details of an educational psychologist in Bloemfontein to help me and my son?

    Thank you.

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