By Bridget Brennan
Australian researchers say they are alarmed at the high levels of depression and anxiety suffered by parents of premature babies.
A Murdoch Children’s Research Institute study released today suggests parents of very preterm babies are seven times more likely to battle depression.
The study found 40 per cent of mothers and 36 per cent of fathers suffered from depression in the early weeks after the birth of a premature baby.
That compared with five to six per cent of parents with depression after the birth of a full-term baby (born after 37 weeks’ gestation).
Anxiety levels of parents of premature babies were also well above average.
“In those initial weeks [after birth], we found quite high rates of clinically significant symptoms of depression and anxiety in mums and dads,” lead author Dr Carmen Pace said.
Dr Pace’s team studied more than 200 mothers and fathers of premature babies born prior to 30 weeks at the Royal Women’s Hospital in Melbourne.
Dr Pace said it was the first longitudinal study of its kind to include detailed analysis of Australian mothers and fathers of premature babies.
“We never actually set out to compare mums and dads in this study but it’s come out that they were pretty similar rates right through out,” she said.
She said parents often felt grief and uncertainty after a premature birth.
One in five parents were still suffering from anxiety and depression six months after a premature birth, the study revealed.
Profound impact on entire family
Melbourne parents Radford and Kirsten White said they found it difficult to relive the four months they spent in intensive care in 2013 with their twins, Rupert and Maisie.
The twins were born via an emergency caesarean at 29 weeks’ gestation, when doctors discovered Rupert was not getting enough blood from the placenta.
Ms White said the experience had a profound impact on her family.
“You can’t sort of sit in that place for nearly four months and see what we saw and not come out affected by it,” she said.