The birth of a premature infant can be accompanied by a cascade of emotions: happiness, guilt, fear, depression.

New research finds, however, that the stress and worry of giving birth prematurely does not adversely affect a mother’s parenting behavior.

Preterm children often require special care in the neonatal period including incubator care or assistance with breathing with lengthy stays in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

Previous research has suggested that this stress, separation, and an increased tendency for depression may impair a mother’s parenting behavior and adversely affect preterm children’s’ long term development.

But in a new paper, University of Warwick researchers found that mothers of preterm children, despite the early stress they experienced, were as sensitive and responsive in interactions with their children as mothers of children born at term.

The study has recently been published in the journal Pediatrics.

For the review, investigators analyzed all studies that had observed mother-child interactions with preterm children compared to children born at term in the first eight years of life. In total they analyzed 3,905 children and their mothers from 34 different studies.

The paper’s first author, researcher and doctoral student Ayten Bilgin, said: “More than one in 10 children are born preterm in the world. These findings are reassuring that regardless of mother’s initial shock and stress, mothers of preterm children can provide the same sensitive parenting.

“There is no evidence for the speculation that parents of preterm children, on average, are less good in their parenting.”

Importantly, length of time in the NICU did not detrimentally influence maternal sensitivity and parenting behavior. This was independent of whether the studies were conducted in North America, Europe or Australia.

Professor Dieter Wolke, the senior author, added: “This is a good message for parents of preterm children. However, recent findings indicate that preterm children might need even higher levels of maternal sensitivity and facilitation to achieve similar cognitive, behavioral outcomes to full-term children.

“There is a need to provide parents of preterm children the necessary assistance in parenting in the preschool and early school years for their children to develop at their full potential.”

Source: University of Warwick/EurekAlert