Premature babies have a much higher risk of suffering from mental disorders like schizophrenia as they grow into adulthood. According to researchers, the risk of developing such mental disorders is the highest for babies that are born after a pregnancy that lasts less than 32 weeks.
When researchers compared these premature babies with babies of normal weight, they found that premature babies are up to 3 times more likely to be rushed to the hospital for psychiatric problems in adulthood.
The risk seems to increase with the prematurity level. Very premature infants have their risk of developing psychosis and schizophrenia as adults, double. They also have a 7 times higher risk of bipolar disorder, compared to babies of normal term, and have a 2.9 times higher risk of suffering major depression. The risk of suffering eating disorders is approximately 3.5 times higher than for babies of normal weight.
Pre-term babies are also much more likely to be hospitalized as adults for psychotic problems. The rates of hospitalization for these infants increase from 2 in 1000 to 4 in 1000.
The researchers believe that the reason for this is the effect of an early birth on brain development. According to doctors, the higher risk of such disorders could also be due to the fact that babies who are born before full term, have an underdeveloped nervous system, that leaves them especially susceptible to suffering a brain injury from birth complications.
However, the researchers have not been able to explain why some babies are affected by premature birth, while others seem to show no effects at all. In fact, they hasten to add that not all babies who are born prematurely will grow up to have serious psychological problems, and in fact, the majority of them will suffer no psychotic effects at all.