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

a and her colleagues evaluated 140 parents of very low birth-weight children born before 37 weeks of gestation (40 weeks is considered full-term). Very low birth weight means a baby weighs less than 1,500 grams (about 3.3 pounds) at birth.

Background data was collected on the parents at the time of birth. When the babies turned 2 years old, their parents were asked to complete psychological well-being questionnaires, and researchers assessed the children's behavior. Just before the children's third birthday, parents completed a questionnaire about the child's behavior.

Parents were assessed for depression, stress and "sense of coherence." Sense of coherence is "readiness to successfully coordinate and take advantage of personal resources," according to the study.

"The more symptoms of poor psychological well-being (depressive symptoms, parenting stress, or weak sense of coherence) the mothers or fathers experienced, the more behavioral problems their children developed as reported by the parents," Huhtala said. "The study showed that not only the psychological well-being of the mothers but also that of the fathers contributes to the behavioral problems of preterm children."

Still, aggressive behaviors and attention problems tended to be more related to the mother's psychological well-being, Huhtala added. This may be because fathers find it easier to tolerate these kinds of behaviors, she suggested.

Stress is normal after a premature birth, and the study doesn't show a cause and effect relationship between stress and behavioral issues, merely an association.

Huhtala recommended that parents seek out psychosocial support if they have trouble coping after having a preterm baby.

Campbell agreed that it's important to seek support. If you don't have a family member or friend that you feel you can talk to, she recommended talking to your doctor or your child's doctor. She said it may be harder for men, but it's important
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