Early postnatal maternal trait anxiety may predict the behavioural outcomes of children born preterm <33 weeks

Ira Kleine, Shona Falconer, Simon Roth, Serena Counsell, Maggie Redshaw, Nigel Kennea, David Edwards, Chiara Nosarti

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Maternal ante- and postnatal anxiety have been associated with children’s socio-emotional development. Moreover, maternal anxiety has been studied as both a contributing factor and consequence of preterm birth, and children born preterm are more likely to develop behavioural problems compared to term-born controls. This study investigated the association between maternal anxiety measured soon after birth and mental health in 215 ex-preterm children, born at <33 weeks, who participated in the Evaluation of Preterm Imaging Study. Children were followed-up at a median age of 4.6 years (range 4.2 – 6.6), and received behavioural and cognitive evaluation. Maternal trait anxiety was assessed with the Spielberger State-Trait Anxiety Index at term corrected age. Primary outcome measures were children’s Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) and Social Responsiveness Scale 2 (SRS-2) scores, indicative of generalised psychopathology and autism symptomatology, respectively. IQ was assessed with the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scales of Intelligence. The final sample, after excluding participants with missing data and multiple pregnancy (n=75), consisted of 140 children (51.4% male). Results showed that increased maternal trait anxiety at term corrected age was associated with higher children’s SDQ (ß=0.25, 95% CI 0.09 – 0.41, p=0.003, f2=0.08) and SRS-2 scores. Our findings indicate that children born preterm whose mothers are more anxious in the early postnatal period may show worse socio-emotional functioning at pre-school age. Further research is needed to investigate preventative measures that can be offered to high-risk premature babies and their families.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Psychiatric Research
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 11 Sept 2020


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