Depression in Parents of Preterm Infants Can Persist With Ongoing Childcare Challenges

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Dr Carmen Pace MPsych (Clin Child) PhD AMACPA Clinical Psychologist and Research Fellow Murdoch Childrens Research Institute The Royal Children’s Hospital Flemington Rd Parkville, Victoria AU

Dr. Carmen Pace

Dr Carmen Pace MPsych (Clin Child) PhD AMACPA
Clinical Psychologist and Research Fellow
Murdoch Childrens Research Institute
The Royal Children’s Hospital
Flemington Rd Parkville, Victoria AUS

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?

Response: We know that mothers of very preterm infants (born prior to 32 weeks gestation) are at higher risk for psychological distress compared to mothers who have healthy full term infants. However, detailed longitudinal research looking at how symptoms evolve over the first weeks and months is limited, and fathers are largely neglected in the literature. We addressed these gaps by assessing symptoms of depression and anxiety in both mothers and fathers every two weeks for the first twelve weeks after birth, and again at six months.

MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings?

Response: We found that shortly after birth, 40% of mothers and 36% of fathers of very preterm infants experienced clinically significant symptoms of depression. This was compared to 6% and 5% of mothers and fathers of healthy full term infants. This did improve over the course of the study, but six months later 14% of mothers and 19% of fathers were still distressed, compared to 5% of mothers and 6% of fathers of full term infants. The pattern of results were similar for symptoms of anxiety. There was little evidence that changes in parental psychological distress were influenced by medical severity, time of transfer or discharge from hospital, or other family factors.

MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?

Response: The key message is that it is common for both mothers and fathers to be distressed after having a very preterm baby, especially early on, but this does tend to improve over the first few months. However, as parents in our study were still showing higher rates than those parents with full term infants six months later, it is also important to be aware that the challenges for these families do not end when they leave hospital.
It’s important that health professionals working with these families closely monitor parents for signs of depression and anxiety at regular intervals during their infant’s hospital stay and beyond, and ensure they are receiving appropriate support. Given that we know that parental mental health is important for child outcomes, intervening and supporting these parents will not only benefit their own wellbeing, but ultimately be protective for these already vulnerable infants too.

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: The natural extension of this work would be to look at child outcomes and how these relate to early psychological distress in parents. We are also looking forward to following up these families in the future, and seeing how wellbeing for parents evolves over time. A valuable future research direction would be to look at how the mental health of one parent influences the wellbeing of his or her partner.

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