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Perception of premature birth by fathers and mothers


VLBW-infants have a greater than average risk for cognitive and developmental disabilities. Premature birth is a distressing life event for parents which is experienced differently by mothers and fathers. To examine each parent's perception and coping of their child's premature birth, 20 consecutive pairs of parents were interviewed separately with a semistructured interview 2–3 weeks and 6–7 weeks postpartum. Parents also filled out the “Ways of Coping Checklist” questionnaire. All children had a birthweight of less than 1,500 g.

Both fathers and mothers showed similar fears regarding possible death and handicaps of their child. There were differences between parents particularly shortly after birth: While fathers reacted with feelings of happiness and insecurity, mothers were shocked and grieving. In the interviews the most important parental coping strategy was “seeking social support”, especially for mothers. In the “Ways of Coping Checklist”“mobilising social support” and “seeking meaning” were the most important coping strategies. Mothers sought meaning in the premature birth and resorted to “blaming themselves” and “blaming others” as coping strategies more often than fathers. From birth onwards, fathers assessed their own coping abilities more positively than the mothers did. These differences between parents resolved during the next weeks as parents adapted to the new circumstances. Parents with marital problems had more difficulties in adaptation.

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Löhr, T., von Gontard, A. & Roth, B. Perception of premature birth by fathers and mothers. Arch Womens Ment Health 3, 41–46 (2000).

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  • Keywords: Premature birth; premature infants; parental perception; parental coping; fathers.