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Children born preterm show persisting impairments in cognitive functioning, school achievement, and brain development. Most research has focused on implications of birth prior to 37 gestational weeks; however, the fetal central nervous system continues to make fundamental changes throughout gestation. Longer gestation is associated with reduced morbidity and mortality even among infants born during the period clinically defined as full term (37–41 gestational weeks). The implications of shortened gestation among term infants for neurodevelopment are poorly understood. The present study prospectively evaluates 232 mothers and their full term infants (50.4% male infants) at three time points across the first postnatal year. We evaluate the association between gestational length and cognitive and motor development. Infants included in the study were full term (born between 37 and 41 weeks gestation). The present study uses the combination of Last Menstrual Period (LMP) and early ultrasound for accurate gestational dating. Hierarchical Linear Regression analyses revealed that longer gestational length is associated with higher scores on the Bayley scales of mental and motor development at 3, 6 and 12 months of age after considering socio-demographic, pregnancy, and infant-level covariates. Findings were identical using revised categories of early, term, and late term proposed by the Working Group for Defining Term Pregnancy. Our findings indicate that longer gestation, even among term infants, benefits both cognitive and motor development.


This article was originally published in PLOS One, volume 9, issue 11 in November 2014. DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0113758

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