Premature birth and ADHD – is there a link?

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.

Why does this happen?

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.

And it is not only that there is a link between premature birth and ADHD.  Because 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.  These may include separation from the mother, bright lights and loud noises in the Neonatal ICU and sleep deprivation to name a few.  With taking this into consideration one could begin to understand how these factors could further contribute to the development of ADHD children who were born prematurely.

What can you do?

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.

Contact Anel for an assessment at or on 083 711 5267

Need more information on premature birth?  The March of Dimes website has a lot of information in this regard.