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Parental post-traumatic reactions after premature birth: implications for sleeping and eating problems in the infant
  1. B Pierrehumbert1,
  2. A Nicole1,
  3. C Muller-Nix1,
  4. M Forcada-Guex2,
  5. F Ansermet1
  1. 1Service Universitaire de Psychiatrie de l’Enfant et de l’Adolescent, Lausanne, Switzerland
  2. 2Département Médico-Chirurgical de Pédiatrie, Division de Néonatologie, Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Lausanne, Switzerland
  1. Correspondence to:
    Dr Pierrehumbert, Service Universitaire de Psychiatrie de l’Enfant et de l’Adolescent, 25A Rue du Bugnon, 1005 Lausanne, Switzerland;


Background: Progress in perinatal medicine has made it possible to increase the survival of very or extremely low birthweight infants. Developmental outcomes of surviving preterm infants have been analysed at the paediatric, neurological, cognitive, and behavioural levels, and a series of perinatal and environmental risk factors have been identified. The threat to the child’s survival and invasive medical procedures can be very traumatic for the parents. Few empirical reports have considered post-traumatic stress reactions of the parents as a possible variable affecting a child’s outcome. Some studies have described sleeping and eating problems as related to prematurity; these problems are especially critical for the parents.

Objective: To examine the effects of post-traumatic reactions of the parents on sleeping and eating problems of the children.

Design: Fifty families with a premature infant (25–33 gestation weeks) and a control group of 25 families with a full term infant participated in the study. Perinatal risks were evaluated during the hospital stay. Mothers and fathers were interviewed when their children were 18 months old about the child’s problems and filled in a perinatal post-traumatic stress disorder questionnaire (PPQ).

Results: The severity of the perinatal risks only partly predicts a child’s problems. Independently of the perinatal risks, the intensity of the post-traumatic reactions of the parents is an important predictor of these problems.

Conclusions: These findings suggest that the parental response to premature birth mediates the risks of later adverse outcomes. Preventive intervention should be promoted.

  • preterm
  • perinatal risks
  • sleeping problems
  • eating problems
  • DSM, Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders
  • PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorders
  • PPQ, perinatal PTSD questionnaire

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