Premature babies are more likely to make fewer friends and feel less accepted by peers, which increases their risk of being bullied, new research has shown.
The findings showed that premature babies also spend less time socialising during their early childhood, affecting their well-being.
However, these children make more friends and gain more acceptance from peers after the transition to school, by the age of eight.
"Having friends, playing with them and being accepted is important for social support and personal well-being," said Dieter Wolke, Professor at Britain's University of Warwick.
"Having fewer friends, feeling less accepted can lead to feelings of loneliness and increases the risk of being excluded or bullied," Wolke added.
For the study, published in the journal Pediatrics, the team analysed over 1,000 children born in Germany and found that those born premature, including very preterm and moderately-to-late preterm babies, are less accepted by their peers.
Children who were born very preterm reported on average four friends, while full term born children had five friends, by age six.
Very preterm children see their friends 15 percent less than those born full-term.
Parents also reported their very preterm born children to be less accepted by their peers.
Interventions should be made available to encourage social interaction skills in premature children, the researchers suggested.
"Although most preterm children catch up with their full term peers during early elementary school, future interventions to improve friendships and social interaction skills should start before school entry to prevent later psychopathology and behaviour problems," Wolke said.