Baby hand
Being born preterm can make babies more vulnerable to childhood asthma and wheezing disorders, a new study says.Redmofrazer/Flickr

Being born preterm can make babies more vulnerable to childhood asthma and wheezing disorders, a new study says.

A full time pregnancy consists of 40 weeks. Babies born before 37 weeks of gestational age are considered to be premature babies.  In the study, babies born before 37 weeks had nearly 46 percent risk of developing asthma and wheezing in childhood, than their full term peers.  

To reach a conclusion, a team of researchers from Netherlands, UK and US looked at nearly 1.5 million children part of 30 studies.  Researcher Jasper Been and colleagues found that preventing preterm birth can help achieve a 3.1 percent reduction in childhood wheezing disorders across the globe.

"There is compelling evidence that preterm birth-particularly very preterm birth-increases the risk of asthma," the authors, while concluding their study, wrote. "Given the projected global increases in children surviving preterm births, research now needs to focus on understanding underlying mechanisms, and then to translate these insights into the development of preventive interventions."

According to health experts, though most of the internal systems of a foetus develop by 32 weeks into the pregnancy, lungs remain immature until the eighth month of pregnancy. So when babies are born before completing their gestational age, their lungs are not fully developed.

The current study, reported in the PLOS Medicine, comes at a time when India is fighting hard to prevent its pre-term births that claim about 300,000 lives every year.  Around 3.6 million babies are born prematurely in India, contributing to 23.6 percent of the 15 million pre-term births around the world. A report compiled by the Indian Foundation for premature Babies (IFPB) last year found a sudden surge in the number of babies born before due date.

Asthma is an inflammation of the air passage that narrows the airway which carries air from the mouth and nose to the lungs. According to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology, nearly 300 million people across the globe are asthmatic and the chronic disease claims around 2,50,000 lives every year.