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OBJECTIVE: To assess whether the parents of babies born preterm (PT; <37 weeks completed gestation) are at excess risk of psychological distress (PD) at 9 months postpartum, and to explore the influence of the degree of prematurity. DESIGN AND PARTICIPANTS: Data were drawn from the UK Millennium Cohort Study, a nationally representative prospective cohort of babies born in 2000-2002. 12,100 families with complete data available for both parents at recruitment (9 months postpartum) are included. EXPOSURE AND OUTCOME: Mothers report of gestational age at birth (in weeks) was grouped into: very PT (<32 weeks), moderately PT (32-33 weeks), late PT (34-36 weeks), early term (37-38 weeks), full-term (39-41 weeks), post-term (42 weeks). PD was assessed using a modified Rutter Malaise Inventory, a validated instrument that has been used in both men and women to assess levels of anxiety and distress. RESULTS: Overall, 7% of families reported a PT birth; 12.1% of mothers and 8.9% of fathers showed signs of PD at 9 months postpartum. The mothers of very PT infants had an increased risk of PD, compared with the mothers of full-term babies (unadjusted OR 2.10 (1.30 to 3.39; adjusted OR 1.66 (1.02 to 2.69)). Mothers of moderate or late PT babies had no apparent increased risk of PD. However, mothers of early term babies also showed a small excess risk of PD (adjusted OR 1.16 (0.99 to 1.36)). Unadjusted analysis suggested a doubling in the risk of PD in fathers of very and moderately PT babies, compared with fathers of full-term babies, which remains statistically significant after adjustment in the moderately PT group (adjusted OR1.98 (1.20 to 3.29)). CONCLUSIONS: The parents of very PT children are at an increased risk of PD at 9 months postpartum, and mothers of children born at early term also see an elevated risk compared with mothers of full-term babies.

Original publication




Journal article


BMJ Open

Publication Date





MENTAL HEALTH, depression, father, mother, preterm birth, Adult, Female, Gestational Age, Humans, Infant, Extremely Premature, Infant, Newborn, Infant, Premature, Male, Parents, Prospective Studies, Risk Factors, Stress, Psychological, Time Factors