Does being born premature mean you’re more likely to end up bipolar?

The answer is “it’s possible”

Premature birth is something I’m familiar with, as I was born almost three months prematurely. I stayed in the NICU for 31 days after my birth, and I was never breastfed. I was given a blood transfusion my parents didn’t know about until I was ten years old and needed to be tested for AIDS. Fortunately, it came up negative, or I’d probably be dead by now. But let’s get to the main topic:

 Very premature babies were more than seven times more like to have bipolar disorder and nearly three times as likely to have depression.

 This research comes from researches at the Institute of Psychiatry in King’s College London and the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. Let’s break it down to the basics and examine their research.

A full term pregnancy should last 40 weeks.
One in 13 babies are born prematurely (before 36 weeks).

The researchers in Sweden and London studied a group of 1.3 million born between 1973 and 1985.


They found 10,523 people were admitted to hospital with a psychiatric disorders, 580 of those had been born prematurely.”

That’s 5.5% of admissions being prematurely birthed. Full term adults had a 2/1000 change of being admitted, a 0.1% chance, while premature adults had a rate of 4/1000, a 0.2% chance if they were born before 36 weeks, and those born before 32 weeks were at 6/1000, or 0.6%. An early birth can distrupt the developing brain1.

Dr Nosarti2 says:

“‘We believe that the increased risk of mental disorders in those born very prematurely can be explained by subtle alterations of brain development. The immature nervous system in those born prematurely is particularly vulnerable to neonatal brain injury resulting from birth complications.”

 However, birth complications have gone down since the study was conducted.