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Mothers of premature children run greater risk of suffering stress

This release is available in Spanish.

The incidence of premature babies has been stable or even increased over time. The phenomenon brings with it the possibility of neurological, sensorial, respiratory, cognitive or psychomotor consequences for the child, both in the short and the medium term. These consequences also are a concern to child psychiatrists and psychologists, as it is currently known that the progress of a premature baby and the appearance or otherwise of problems depend largely on the family environment, above all how the mother interacts with her child in the first months of its life. Doctor Fernando Gonzlez defended his PhD thesis at the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU), entitled Development and early relations of premature children. A comparative study with a control population of two-year olds.

The research for this thesis involved the participation of 90 prematurely born babies with very low weight (less than 1.500 grams), without medium or severe consequences, and of their mothers. Their results were compared with 96 healthy new-borns, together with their mothers. The aim was to evaluate the mental development of the babies after two years (key moment in their maturing) and, above all, to contribute to knowledge about the environmental factors surrounding them; especially those involving mother-infant relationships.

Link between stress and psychomotor development

In this sense, the degree of stress of the mother appears to be a key factor. Mr Gonzlez concluded that the children studied (premature or otherwise) and whose mothers showed high levels of stress during the first year of life, have lower rates of psychomotor development, besides having greater risk of suffering sleep disorders at two years. Precisely, the thesis bears out that mothers of premature babies have greater stress, showing symptoms of depression and anxiety.

As regards specific characteristics, it was shown that prematurely born babies have, at two years of age (corrected), a cognitive and psychomotor development within normality. Nevertheless, the values of the mental development rate are lower in the group of prematurely born babies than in the healthy group. Moreover, prematurely born babies show psychofunctional disorders (especially refusing to eat) and externalised behaviour (tantrums, oppositionism, aggressivity).

Bonding between mother and baby was also studied in this thesis. It would appear that the indexes of this bonding do not vary very much between those cases of mothers with prematurely born babies and those born healthy. However, what the thesis does conclude is that, when there is an insecure bonding model between mother and baby (whether premature or not), the results for mental development are lower. It was also found that there is a relation between insecure bonding of mothers and the stress that these had in the first year of the child, and this is why Mr Gonzlez recommends going into this link more thoroughly in the future.

Immediate evaluation

As regards these conclusions, Mr Gonzlez puts forward in his thesis the need to evaluate the reactions of the mothers (and of parents in general) of premature children as soon as possible, as regards stress and insecure bonding. The proposal is to provide specific help to these parents, in order to minimise the effects that these reactions might consequently have on their children an on their development. This means, therefore, facilitating the development of bonding during hospital admission, as well as providing monitoring programmes when they go home.


Contact: Amaia Portugal
Elhuyar Fundazioa

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