Even after very preterm babies have grown well into adulthood, their parents still tend to worry more about them compared to parents of full-term babies, according to a new analysis conducted by researchers at the University of Warwick and University Hospital Bonn.
According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 15 million babies are born preterm (before 37 week so of gestation) and this figure is rising. Premature birth is the number one cause of death in young children, with most preterm-related deaths occurring in babies who were born very preterm (at 31 weeks or less).
Those who survive may spend weeks or months in the hospital and may face lifelong problems such as cognitive disabilities, respiratory problems, visual and hearing problems, digestive problems, and cerebral palsy.
For the study, the researchers compared the perception of parents whose children were born very preterm with a control group born at term. They also analyzed the opinions of the children.
“Previous work from Canada had suggested that the health-related quality of life of preterm born individuals may decrease as they reach adulthood. However, this study found while quality of life improves for term born adults it remains lower for preterm born participants,” said first author Nicole Baumann, a doctoral student who worked with Professor Dieter Wolke at the University of Warwick’s department of psychology.
The researchers interviewed the parents of 260 individuals born very preterm or with very low birth weight, as well as the parents of 229 individuals born full term. They also interviewed the children themselves at age 13 and then as adults at age 26. The data was gathered as part of the prospective Bavarian Longitudinal Study which began in Germany in 1985.
The researchers looked at health-related issues such as vision, hearing, speech, emotion, dexterity and pain. They asked questions relating to these such as “Are you able to recognize a friend on the other side of the street?” and “Are you happy and interested in life?”
The findings revealed that adult children whose parents were more worried about them having a lower quality of life, did indeed experience more periods of unemployment, were more often the recipients of social benefits, had fewer friends, and were less likely to be with a partner.
There is a positive element to the study, however, in that the findings indicate that preterm participants don’t believe that their health-related quality of life gets worse between age 13 and 26, even though their parents believe the quality does diminish, particularly in pain and emotion.
The study is published in the journal Pediatrics.
Source: University of Warwick