An Australian study has shown parents face heightened risk of mental health problems if their babies are extremely premature.
The researchers from The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne focussed on parents of those born at 30 weeks gestation or less. Pregnancy normally lasts around 40 weeks.
They discovered those parents are around 10 times more likely to become depressed than parents of full-term infants.
Anxiety also stands out. Around 48 per cent of mothers with extremely premature babies suffer from anxiety compared with 13 per cent for other mothers. A similar rate was evident for fathers.
“Our findings show that it is common for parents to be distressed in the weeks following very preterm birth, but it is also important to note that distress does tend to improve over time for most parents,” study author Dr Carmen Pace told JAMA Pediatrics.
Premature infants often have medical problems such as difficulty breathing and eating and there can also be longer-term issues such as impaired vision and hearing. Those factors contribute to the pressure placed on their parents.
Experts in post-natal depression say the study reaffirms the need for strong support services for both mothers and fathers.