Early environment and long-term outcomes of preterm infants Academic Article uri icon


  • Prematurity is associated with an increased risk of long-term health and neurodevelopmental problems. Key perinatal and neonatal factors that affect these outcomes have long been studied. However, more recently, there has been an appreciation of the importance of environmental factors in long-term outcomes of preterm babies, particularly in light of the rapid maturation of the brain during these babies' early days of life. Breastmilk and breastfeeding is the gold standard for infant feeding, including preterm babies. The benefits are well established in regard to protection from serious complications like necrotising enterocolitis. Although theoretically plausible, the benefits for neurodevelopment are less clear. Noise, pain and the environment of the neonatal intensive care can also affect infant neurodevelopment. It is established that noise and pain have deleterious effects. However, the benefits of single-room vs open-bay neonatal units remain under debate. Developmental care practices, of which there are many, are increasingly embraced worldwide. There are benefits both for the parents and the baby, however, the evidence is difficult to pool due to the heterogeneity of studies and study populations. Finally, it is important to remember the importance of the role of parents in shaping long-term neurodevelopment of the high-risk preterm newborn. Increasingly, positive parenting and parents' mental health are shown to have long lasting advantages for preterm infants. A deeper understanding of early environmental factors is key to developing future interventions to optimise outcomes of preterm newborns.

publication date

  • 2020