AUTHORS: Turpin H, Urben S, Ansermet F, Borghini A, Murray MM, Muller-Nix C

Scientific Reports, 9(1): 450, January 2019


Very premature children (<33 weeks of gestational age (GA)) experience greater academic difficulties and have lower, though normal-range, intelligence quotients (IQs) versus their full-term peers. These differences are often attributed to GA or familial socio-economic status (SES). However, additional factors are increasingly recognized as likely contributors. Parental stress after a child’s premature birth can present as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms and can in turn reinforce difficulties in parent-child interaction pattern. Following a longitudinal design, we studied the interplay between a premature child’s perinatal history and maternal PTSD symptoms on intelligence abilities assessed at 11 years of age. Thirty-three very preterm and 21 full-term mother-children dyads partook in the study. Children’s perinatal risk was evaluated at hospital discharge, maternal PTSD symptoms were assessed when the children were 18 months old, and children’s IQ was measured at 11 years old. IQ was significantly lower for preterm than full-term children, without reliable influences from perinatal risk scores. However, lower maternal PTSD symptoms predicted higher IQ in preterm children. This preliminary study highlights the importance detecting maternal PTSD symptoms after a preterm birth and suggests interventions should target reducing maternal PTSD symptoms during early childhood to enhance very preterm children’s intelligence development.

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