By Louise Milligan.
Mothers who do not receive psychological help after giving birth prematurely are five times more likely to suffer depression than those who do, even eight years after their children are born, a world-first study has found.
The study, conducted at Melbourne’s Royal Women’s Hospital, tracked mothers and babies who received nine-monthly visits from a psychologist and a physiotherapist in the first year of the children’s lives and compared them to a control group who did not receive that help.
It found 27 per cent of the mothers who were not given the intervention had symptoms of depression and 42 per cent had symptoms of anxiety.
“It really is surprising and way too high, the rates of depression and anxiety that we are seeing at this age, and we definitely do need to be intervening earlier,” said lead researcher, Associate Professor Alicia Spittle from the Royal Women’s Hospital and University of Melbourne.
By contrast, only 5 per cent of the mothers who were helped had depression and 22 per cent had anxiety.
“A really important part of our program was to support the parent-infant relationship, because you can imagine having a baby who is born early and has spent two, three, four months in hospital, that that relationship between the mother and baby and bond can be affected,” Dr Spittle said.
Babies were also given physiotherapy to improve their core strength and motor skills, which can be compromised by months of lying on their backs in hospital instead of in the safe foetal position in their mother’s womb.
The report did not find a significant difference in the baby’s physical wellbeing, but Dr Spittle said she believed that was because there would have to be far more support to change that than simply in the first year.
‘It was a very scary experience’.
“If you don’t have professional support to help you understand the emotions that you are feeling and deal with those day-to-day situations, you are just not able to learn the resilience that you need to be able to continue on,” Ms Saunders said.
“I don’t think that I really felt like a normal mum until [Noah] was about four, to be honest … because there’s that point where you don’t know developmentally what you might be faced with with a prem, which is kind of the biggest scariest part.”
Noah, who is just like any other 10-year-old these days, was born weighing just a fraction over 1 kilogram and had severe breathing difficulties. He stopped breathing several times in his first year.