Maternal psychological distress after preterm birth: Disruptive or adaptive?

Ruby A.s. Hall, Hannah N. Hoffenkamp, Johan Braeken, Anneke Tooten, A.J.J.M. Vingerhoets, Hedwig J.a. Van Bakel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)
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Maternal postpartum distress is often construed as a marker of vulnerability to poor parenting. Less is known, however, about the impact of postpartum distress on parenting an infant born prematurely. The present study investigated whether high distress levels, which are particularly prevalent in mothers of preterm born infants, necessarily affect a mother's quality of parenting.
Latent Class Analysis was used to group mothers (N=197) of term, moderately, and very preterm born infants, based on their levels of distress (depression, anxiety, and PTSD symptoms) at one month postpartum, and their quality of parenting at one and six months postpartum. Parenting quality was assessed on the basis of maternal interactive behaviors (sensitivity, intrusiveness, and withdrawal) using observations, and maternal attachment representations (balanced, disengaged, or distorted) using interviews.
A 5-Class model yielded the best fit to the data. The first Class (47%) of mothers was characterized by low distress levels and high-quality parenting, the second Class (20%) by low distress levels and low-quality parenting, the third Class (22%) by high distress levels and medium-quality parenting, the fourth Class (9%) by high distress levels and high-quality parenting, and finally the fifth Class (2%) by extremely high levels of distress and low-quality parenting.
While heightened distress levels seem inherent to preterm birth, there appears to be substantial heterogeneity in mothers' emotional responsivity. This study indicates that relatively high levels of distress after preterm birth do not necessarily place these mothers at increased risk with regard to poor parenting. Conversely, low distress levels do not necessarily indicate good-quality parenting. The results of the present study prompt a reconsideration of the association between postpartum distress and parenting quality, and challenge the notion that high levels of maternal distress always result in low-quality parenting practices
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)272-280
JournalInfant Behavior and Development: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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