Parents Have Less Secure Attachment to Children Born Preterm

A recent study from Austria compare parents of children born at term and preterm to find out whether or not gestation affects parent-child attachment. The study was published in Plos One. The journal features research from the natural sciences, medical research, engineering as well as social sciences and humanities. The researchers looked at whether or not preterm and term children differ in their attachment towards mothers and fathers and whether the babies gender, gestational age, development and twin status affected attachment.

Fathers struggle most with attachment to preterm sons

The study included 245 fathers and mothers who lived together. 190 of the babies were born preterm and 100 at term. 45 of them were twin pairs. The mother was the primary caregiver in all families. The children in the study were between 12 and 36 months old. All families were Austrian middle-class. The study found that both parents had a less secure attachment to children born preterm compared to the children born at term. The researchers also discovered that fathers, especially, struggle with attachment issues when they have preterm sons.

Attachment is related to development

For fathers of children born at term, attachment was not related to the gender of the child or to the fathers education. It was related positively to the child’s development. This association was also found in preterm children, suggesting that, for fathers, the interaction with less developed children is more difficult than with more developed children. However, for fathers with preterm children, less education, lower development scores and male gender were associated with lower attachment scores. Male gender of the babies were associated with lower attachment scores for children born preterm with both parents.

Having twins doesn’t affect the level of attachment

No significant effect was found on parent-child attachment in the families who had twins. The results indicate that having two premature children compared to one don’t affect attachment negatively or positively. The researchers recommended that parents of children born preterm should receive special attention and help from health care providers. That especially goes for fathers without an academic education who have sons with lower development scores. Especially gender-typed expectations or ideas about children’s development and behavior should be addressed as part of the work with both parents, but in particular with fathers.

Read about about how to support dads who have babies in the NICU.


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