We investigated whether children born preterm are at risk for language delay using a sibling-control design in the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study (MoBa), conducted by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health. Participants included 26,769 siblings born between gestational weeks 23 and 42. Language delay was assessed when the children were 1.5, 3, and 5 years old. To adjust for familial risk factors, comparisons were conducted between preterm and full-term siblings. Pregnancy-specific risk factors were controlled for by means of observed variables. Findings showed that preterm children born before week 37 had increased risk for language delays at 1.5 years. At 3 and 5 years, only children born before week 34 had increased risk for language delay. Children born weeks 29–33 and before week 29 had increased risk for language delay at 1.5 years (RR = 4.51, 95% CI [3.45, 5.88]; RR = 10.32, 95% CI [6.7, 15.80]), 3 years (RR = 1.50, 95% CI [1.02, 2.21]; RR = 2.78, 95% CI [1.09, 7.07]), and 5 years (RR = 1.63, 95% CI [1.06, 2.51]; RR = 2.98, 95% CI [0.87, 10.26]), respectively. In conclusion, children born preterm are at risk for language delays, with familial confounders only explaining a moderate share of the association. This suggests a cause-effect relationship between early preterm birth and risk for language delay in preschool children.
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