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Stressed Parents May Affect Preemie Behavior Later
Date:3/16/2012

By Serena Gordon
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, March 15 (HealthDay News) -- When parents of very small premature infants are stressed or depressed, their children are more likely to develop behavioral problems by age 3, according to new research.

What's more, the worse the parents scored on psychological well-being indicators, the more likely their youngsters were to develop the problems.

"The psychological well-being of both parents is a significant contributor on the behavioral and emotional development of preterm children," said study lead author Dr. Mira Huhtala, a researcher at Turku University Hospital in Finland.

Results of the study, scheduled to be published in the April print issue of Pediatrics, were released online March 12.

Babies born prematurely have a greater risk of behavioral, emotional and neurological problems, probably for multiple reasons, according to this study.

Preemies endure a great deal of stress in the neonatal intensive care unit, noted Dr. Deborah Campbell, director of neonatology at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. While it's not clear exactly how that stress might affect a baby, Campbell said it may cause changes in the developing brain. She said that preemies also have smaller brain volumes on average, and overall they're just not as developed as they should be.

At the same time, their parents are incredibly stressed and less resilient. The premature birth of their child may lead to lowered expectations, and they may be overly fearful, which may limit the child's opportunities for normal development, she noted. If parents are depressed or feeling a sense of loss, they may not engage or connect with the child as well, said Campbell.

"It's difficult to know how much of behavior is from underlying biology and how much is the influence of the family," she said.

In an attempt to tease out which factors might matter more, Huhtal
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