How Having a Preemie Affects Mental Health
The findings of a small study reported in JAMA Pediatrics show that, compared to parents of full-term newborns, parents of babies born at 30 weeks’ gestation or less—called preterm—or babies admitted to the NICU are about 10 times more likely to experience depression after the birth. In fathers of preemies, the depression risk was 11 times higher than for dads of healthy infants.
Researchers emphasize that, in spite of these findings, "distress does tend to improve over time for most parents." The study, which was conducted in Australia, showed that soon after birth, 40% of mothers and 36% of fathers of preemies were depressed, while 6% of mothers and 5% of fathers of full-term infants suffered from depression. After 6 months, depression rates in parents of healthy newborns were about the same, and rates of depression in parents of preterm babies fell to 14% of mothers and 19% of fathers.
The study also showed a similar pattern for anxiety. Soon after birth, 48% of mothers and 47% of fathers of premature infants suffered from anxiety, while 13% of mothers and 10% of fathers of healthy babies reported feeling anxious. The amount of support that new parents receive is thought to play a role in depression and anxiety.
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