Premature Birth Sometimes Can Adversely Affect Infant's Ties To Mother

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- For mothers of premature, very low birth-weight babies that began life in the sterile confines of a neonatal intensive care unit, the second year of motherhood may bring new stresses and a barely 50 percent chance that a secure bond will form with the children, researchers report.

The findings provide new insight on how medical technology's ability to keep increasingly younger babies alive may impact early cognitive development. Researchers gathered information about 37 babies, who weighed an average of 2 pounds at birth and were born 13 weeks early in the normal 40-week gestation period.

The findings were detailed in the September issue of Developmental Psychology by Sarah Mangelsdorf, a professor of psychology at the University of Illinois; Jean L. McHale, a former U. of I. graduate student in psychology; and University of Michigan researchers James Plunkett, Cynthia Dedrick, Meryl Berlin, Samuel Meisels and Margo Dicthellmiller. Previous studies had found little difference in the quality of parent-infant attachment between premature infants of less risk and normal infants.

The researchers observed infant-mother interaction in homes and in a laboratory. All of the infants had spent an average of three months in intensive care at the University of Michigan Hospital and had survived without serious physical or neurological complications.

Most troubling, Mangelsdorf said, was a decline in the rates of secure parent-infant relationships in the first two years. "At 19 months, 75 percent of normal full-term babies were rated as secure, but attachment security for very low birth-weight babies was just under 50 percent. At 14 months, the distributions of the two groups were about the same, but there was a shift to insecurity at 19 months."

Based on the mothers' self-report data on the impact of the infants on their families, Mangelsdorf theorizes that a decline of professional and informal support after a

Contact: Jim Barlow, Life Sciences Editor
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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