Late preterm (LP) infants are defined as those born at 34-0/7 to 36-6/7 weeks’ gestational age. LP infants were previously referred to as near term infants. The change in terminology resulted from the understanding that these infants are not fully mature and that the last 6 weeks of gestation represent a critical period of growth and development of the fetal brain and lungs, and of other systems. There is accumulating evidence of higher risks for health complications in these infants, including serious morbidity and a threefold higher infant mortality rate compared with term infants. This information is of critical importance because of its scientific merits and practical implications. However, it warrants a critical and balanced review, given the apparent overall uncomplicated outcome for the majority of LP infants.
Others reviewed the characteristics of LP infants that predispose them to a higher risk of morbidity at the neonatal period. This review focuses on the long-term neurodevelopmental and respiratory outcomes, with the main aim to suggest putative prenatal, neonatal, developmental, and environmental causes for these increased morbidities. It demonstrates parallelism in the trajectories of pulmonary and neurologic development and evolution as a model for fetal and neonatal maturation. These may suggest the critical developmental time period as the common pathway that leads to the outcomes. Disruption in this pathway with potential long-term consequences in both systems may occur if the intrauterine milieu is disturbed. Finally, the review addresses the practical implications on perinatal and neonatal care during infancy and childhood.