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Many Premature Babies Do Fine In School, Study Shows

NEW YORK (CBS NEWS) - Researchers say a new study should help ease the minds parents of premature babies when it comes to how well their children will perform in school. The report, published in JAMA Pediatrics, finds that babies born early often catch up to their peers academically.

About 10 percent of babies in the U.S. are born prematurely — before 37 weeks of pregnancy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"We know a lot about the medical and clinical outcomes [of premature babies] and we know some about short-term educational outcomes, but what we didn't know is how the babies do once they get further out into elementary school and middle school," the study's first author Dr. Craig Garfield, associate professor of pediatrics and of medical social sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, told CBS News.

The study found that two-thirds of babies born at only 23 or 24 weeks were ready for kindergarten on time. The researchers were surprised to see that nearly 2 percent of these extreme preemies even achieved gifted status in school.

Though extremely premature babies often scored low on standardized tests, preterm infants born 25 weeks or later performed only slightly lower than full-term infants. For babies born after 28 weeks, the differences in test scores were negligible.

For the study, the researchers analyzed data on more than 1.3 million babies born in Florida from 1992 to 2002 with gestational ages of 23 to 41 weeks who later entered Florida public schools between 1995 and 2012.

They then matched the babies' medical records to their Florida public school records to examine the association between being born prematurely and how the children performed in school.

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