Premature babies are less likely to form romantic relationships, have sexual relations or experience parenthood as adults than those who go full term, new research shows.
That’s likely due, at least in part, to pre-term birth being associated with being more often withdrawn and shy, socially excluded and less willing to take risks in adolescence, says a team from the UK’s University of Warwick.
As such, they add, more needs to be done in schools and by parents to encourage social interactions when young.
Their meta-analysis of data from up to 4.4 million adult participants shows that those born preterm (before 37 weeks’ gestations) are 28% less likely to be in a romantic relationship, 22% less likely to become parents, and 2.3 times less likely to ever have a sexual partner.
The situation appears even worse for those born very (<32 weeks) or extremely preterm (<28 weeks). Those in the latter category are 3.2 times less likely to ever having sexual relations, for example.
On the upside, the meta-analysis suggests the where adults born pre-terms do have friends or partners, the quality of those relationships is at least as good as for full-term adults.
“The finding that adults who were born pre-term are less likely to have a partner, to have sex and become parents does not appear to be explained by a higher rate of disability,” says lead researcher Marina Goulart de Mendonça, from Warwick’s Department of Psychology.
“Rather pre-term born children have been previously found to have poorer social interactions in childhood that make it harder for them to master social transitions such as finding a partner, which in turn is proven to boost your wellbeing.”
The study’s findings are published in the journal JAMA Network Open.
Nick Carne is the editor of Cosmos Online and editorial manager for The Royal Institution of Australia.
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