Psychological Impacts of Having a Premature Infant

Baby in arms I was reading in the news this week that more than one in 10 babies worldwide is born prematurely. That’s 15 million babies. The report elaborated,

In developing countries it is due to things like infections, HIV, malaria and poor nutrition. In developed countries there are totally different risk factors – an older delivery age, diabetes, obesity and multiple births due to IVF.

As I read the report, I recalled the days I worked at a major children’s hospital early in my graduate school career. The students’ office was located just past the neonatal intensive care unit. I would often see parents seated on the chairs in the hallway, or through the windows, and it was visibly obvious that many of them were struggling through this hardship.

For parents of a preterm infant, psychological impacts may include:

These responses may be long-lasting, as parents face unique trials after the infant leaves the hospital. If these difficulties go unaddressed, other areas of the parents’ lives can be significantly impacted (e.g. work, intimate relationships).

Related reading: For Parents on NICU, Trauma May Last

Insensitive Comments Common For Parents of Premature Infants

For the child who is born prematurely, there may be several long-term mental health complications:

  • learning disabilities (e.g. deficits in language development, memory, etc.)
  • behavioral difficulties (e.g. attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, poor emotion regulation)

Additionally, developmental milestones should be adjusted to the child’s ‘corrected age’ to determine if there may be developmental delays.

Related reading: Preemie Milestones

Parents of children born prematurely can seek advice from their child’s medical team, developmental pediatricians, and early childhood mental health professionals. It is important for parents to also recognize that certain difficulties may not arise until later in the child’s life (e.g. learning difficulties at school), so they should be forthright with providing details on the child’s birth to relevant persons with whom they may interact (i.e. school teachers, etc.).


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About Traci S. Williams-Nurse

Dr. Traci Williams-Nurse is a licensed psychologist who specialized in child, adolescent and family psychology. Her interests include child development, family functioning, video games and food. She was born and raised in Trinidad & Tobago and currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia.
This entry was posted in Anxiety, Depression, Health Care, Mental Health, Parents, Stress, Trauma and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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