Cerebral palsy more likely in late preterm babiesSection: Life, Pg. 07dBabies born at 34 to 36 weeks' gestation are three times more likely to be diagnosed withcerebral palsy than those born full term at 37 weeks or later, researchers report today.In addition, these "late preterm" babies, born just a few weeks early, are "modestly" butsignificantly more likely to be diagnosed with developmental delays or mentalretardation, according to the study of 141,321 children born at 30 weeks' gestation or later."We're surprised to see the late preterm babies had a higher risk of cerebral palsy," sayslead author Joan Petrini, director of the March of Dimes Perinatal Data Center in WhitePlains, N.Y. They also had a 25% higher risk of developmental delay or mentalretardation than full-term babies.Most of the children in the study had not yet entered school, when learning disabilitiesare more likely to be seen, the authors note, so their results may underestimate the proportion of late preterm children with brain development problems.Because babies born at 34 to 36 weeks are sometimes bigger than full-term infants, theyappear to be healthy, says co-author Gabriel Escobar, a senior research scientist at theKaiser Permanente Medical Care Program in Oakland. And that's part of the problem, hesays."There's a temptation to treat them as if they're term babies," Escobar says. "Being a bigger baby doesn't necessarily protect you at all. It's really how mature you are."Compared with the 70- or 80-fold increase seen in babies born at 26 weeks, a threefoldincrease in cerebral palsy might not sound like much, he says. But "there's a ton of these babies."In fact, about one in 11 live births in the USA occurs between 34 and 36 weeks' gestation,or more than 370,000 births a year, Petrini says.And while the proportion of babies born earlier than 34 weeks has remained fairly stable,Escobar says, the percentage of late preterm births has been growing. Increasing rates of labor induction and cesarean sections -- not all of which are medically necessary -- andwider use of assisted fertility therapies are partly to blame, he and Petrini say.Whether the factors behind a preterm birth or the preterm birth itself raise the risk of neurological problems isn't known, Petrini says. The study's authors lacked informationabout whether the mothers had complications, such as pregnancy-induced high blood pressure or gestational diabetes, or risk factors, such as smoking during pregnancy, thatled them to deliver prematurely.