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Preterm Birth and Brain Development: A New Frontier of Newborn Care

One in nine babies in the United States is born prematurely. Thanks to innovations in medical care, more than 90 percent of these babies survive. However, nearly half of preterm infants may be at risk for learning problems later in life. Dr. Terrie Inder, Chair of the Department of Pediatric Newborn Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), is working to overcome this challenge.

Dr. Inder, who is dual-trained in pediatric neurology and neonatology, is expanding BWH research programs to study newborn brain development. One area of her research is the use of brain imaging to predict the likelihood of future learning problems. In 25 percent of preterm babies, Dr. Inder explains, brain imaging mirrors that of full-term babies, indicating a low risk for the development of learning problems. However, in about 20 percent of preterm babies, researchers see changes in brain imaging that suggest an increased risk for learning problems later in life. Based on these findings, additional therapy and support services may be recommended to positively influence brain development.

At BWH, Dr. Inder has created the Growth and Development Unit, which focuses on providing support services to newborns, such as physical therapy and occupational therapy, to positively influence brain development.

Dr. Inder’s research also has found that the environment can play a critical role in newborn brain development. Watch Dr. Inder describe how research findings are shaping the care of babies born at BWH.

– Jamie R.

Terrie Inder, MD, MBChB, Chair of the Department of Pediatric Newborn Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, explains the impact of premature birth on neonatal brain development.