According to a study that was conducted by the researchers from the University of Warwick, very preterm babies and children who were born with very low weight have difficulties bonding with their parents. The authors of the study said this is related to neurological and developmental problems that are often observed in premies and very low weight babies rather than their parents’ interaction or sensitivity. The authors of the study, however, also emphasized that they found most premies and very low weight babies to be securely attached to their parents. The study appeared in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood: Fetal and Neonatal Edition
The researchers who were led by Professor Dieter Wolke studied nearly 200 children. 71 were born very prematurely or with very low weight, while 105 were full-term. They defined very preterm as being born before the 37th week of gestation and very low weight as having less than 1,500 grams at birth. Upon comparing attachment to parents between both groups, the researchers found that over 60 percent of very preterm/low weight children were securely attached as compared to over 70 percent of full-term children.
Besides having lower rates of secure attachment to parents, over 30 percent of very preterm/low weight children were also found to display the so-called disorganized attachment – showing contradictory behavior during interaction with their parents at the age of 18 months. Disorganized attachment was observed in only 17 percent of full-term children. The researchers also studied maternal interaction and sensitivity, and found no difference between moms of very preterm/low weight and full-term children.
According to the authors of the study, difficulties bonding with parents and disorganized attachment in very preterm/low weight children is probably related to neurological and developmental problems that are often observed in children who are born either very prematurely or with very low weight. Professor Wolke explained that they found parents of very preterm/low weight children just as loving and caring as those of full-term children. He said the only logical explanation for higher rates of difficulties bonding with parents and disorganized attachment are developmental problems.
Wolke added that doctors should be very careful in evaluating the parent-child relationship, especially since disorganized attachment is often interpreted as a sign of child neglect and abuse. On the basis of their findings, the lead author of the study called health professionals to consider very preterm birth and very low birth weight before drawing any conclusions about parent-child relationship. He underlined that he and his colleagues found a difference between very preterm/low weight children and their full-term peers even if their parents were just as sensitive or even more so.
The good news is that sensitive parenting shows results at a later age. A study that was also conducted by the researchers from the University of Warwick in 2012 has shown that sensitive parenting helps very preterm/low weight babies to catch up on the delay in development.
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