Dr. Marina Mendonca PhD RECAP project (Research on European Children and Adults Born Preterm) Department of Psychology University of Warwick, UK

Preterm Babies Less Likely To Have Romantic Relationships as Adults

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Dr. Marina Mendonca PhD RECAP project (Research on European Children and Adults Born Preterm) Department of Psychology University of Warwick, UK

Dr. Mendonca

Dr. Marina Mendonca PhD
RECAP project (Research on European Children and Adults Born Preterm)
Department of Psychology
University of Warwick, UK

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

Response: Previous research on the social lives of adults born preterm (under 37 weeks gestation) was inconsistent. This meta-analysis brought together data from up to 4.4m adult participants and has shown that those who were born preterm are less likely to form romantic relationships, to have had sexual relations or experience parenthood than full terms. For example, those born preterm were 28% less likely to form romantic relationships and 22% less likely to become parents, when compared to those born full term. When looking at sexual relations, preterm born adults were 2.3 times (or 57%) less likely to ever have a sexual partner.

These associations were found for both men and women, and were stronger the lower gestational age. This means that the chances of finding a romantic partner or having children were lower for those born very (<28 weeks gestation) or extremely preterm (<28 weeks gestation), with the extremely pre-term born adults being for example 3.2 times (78%) less likely to ever having had sexual relations when compared to their full term peers.

Despite having fewer relationships, we found that when adults who were born preterm had friends or a partner, the quality of these relationships was at least as good as those born full term. 

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

Response: Close and intimate relationships have been shown to increase happiness and well-being both physically and mentally. Our findings suggest that people born preterm might be at greater risk of social isolation, lower wealth, and poorer physical and mental health due to lack of sexual activity and lack of support from a romantic partner.

Previous research has shown that children born preterm have poorer social interactions: They are more often withdrawn and shy, social excluded and less likely to take risks in adolescence. These characteristics seem to persist into adulthood making it harder for preterm adults to form relationships normative of adulthood, such as getting married or having children.

More needs to be done to encourage social interactions at younger ages. Those caring for preterm children including parents, health professionals and teachers should be more aware of the potential important role of social development and social integration for preterm children. As preterm children tend to be more timid and shy, supporting them making friends and being integrated in their peer group may help them to later find romantic partners, have sexual relationships and to become parents, all of which enhances wellbeing.

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

Response: Future studies need to further investigate what contributes for these differences between people born preterm and full term in terms of social relationships – what are the underlying mechanisms? This requires studies from early childhood and we are currently working on this in the RECAP-preterm project (https://recap-preterm.eu/). Furthermore, as people born very preterm get older, their parents may not be around anymore making it more important to have a romantic partner and social support from others. In this way, it will be important to continue to follow the life course of people born preterm and their well-being. 

No disclosures


Mendonça M, Bilgin A, Wolke D. Association of Preterm Birth and Low Birth Weight With Romantic Partnership, Sexual Intercourse, and Parenthood in AdulthoodA Systematic Review and Meta-analysisJAMA Netw Open. Published online July 12, 20192(7):e196961. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.6961

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Last Updated on July 15, 2019 by Marie Benz MD FAAD