Gestational age and child development at school entry

Gursimran K. Dhamrait, Hayley Christian, Melissa O’Donnell, Gavin Pereira

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Studies have reported a dose-dependent relationship between gestational age and poorer school readiness. The study objective was to quantify the risk of developmental vulnerability for children at school entry, associated with gestational age at birth and to understand the impact of sociodemographic and other modifiable risk factors on these relationships. Linkage of population-level birth registration, hospital, and perinatal datasets to the Australian Early Development Census (AEDC), enabled follow-up of a cohort of 64,810 singleton children, from birth to school entry in either 2009, 2012, or 2015. The study outcome was teacher-reported child development on the AEDC with developmental vulnerability defined as domain scores < 10th percentile of the 2009 AEDC cohort. We used modified Poisson Regression to estimate relative risks (RR) and risk differences (RD) of developmental vulnerability between; (i) preterm birth and term-born children, and (ii) across gestational age categories. Compared to term-born children, adjustment for sociodemographic characteristics attenuated RR for all preterm birth categories. Further adjustment for modifiable risk factors such as preschool attendance and reading status at home had some additional impact across all gestational age groups, except for children born extremely preterm. The RR and RD for developmental vulnerability followed a reverse J-shaped relationship with gestational age. The RR of being classified as developmentally vulnerable was highest for children born extremely preterm and lowest for children born late-term. Adjustment for sociodemographic characteristics attenuated RR and RD for all gestational age categories, except for early-term born children. Children born prior to full-term are at a greater risk for developmental vulnerabilities at school entry. Elevated developmental vulnerability was largely explained by sociodemographic disadvantage. Elevated vulnerability in children born post-term is not explained by sociodemographic disadvantage to the same extent as in children born prior to full-term.

Original languageEnglish
Article number14522
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021


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