Preterm birth and childhood psychiatric disorders

Pediatr Res. 2011 May;69(5 Pt 2):11R-8R. doi: 10.1203/PDR.0b013e318212faa0.


Epidemiologic studies have, for many years, identified preterm birth as a significant risk factor for psychiatric disorders. There has been a recent resurgence of interest in neurobehavioral outcomes after preterm birth. In this article, we review clinical cohort studies of the prevalence, etiology, and risk factors for psychiatric sequelae in ex-preterm children. Studies using diagnostic psychiatric evaluations are few in number but typically report a 3- to 4-fold increased risk for disorders in middle childhood. Our review of studies reveals a "preterm behavioral phenotype" characterized by an increased risk for symptoms and disorders associated with inattention, anxiety, and social difficulties. The most contemporary studies have also reported a markedly increased prevalence of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in preterm populations. Our examination of the correlates and comorbidities of psychiatric disorders is indicative of a different causative pathway that may be associated with altered brain development after preterm birth. Despite the low population attributable risk, the frequency of these symptoms and disorders means that psychiatric screening is likely to be beneficial in this vulnerable population.

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Obstetric Labor, Premature*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prevalence