Moms Misperceive Premature Babies' Temperament

December 11, 1998

The mothers of premature infants tend to have unwarranted negative perceptions of their babies' temperament, a perception that could predict future behavior problems, researchers say.

Diane L. Langkamp, MD, of Ohio State University, and colleagues asked the mothers of 40 four-month-old babies who had been born an average 10 weeks premature to rate their infants on 70 specific reactions and behaviors. They also asked them about their overall perceptions of the infants' temperament, a judgment made from the mother's frame of reference and thus more influenced by her emotional state and life events.

In the December issue of the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, Langkamp and colleagues report that the "mothers perceive preterm infant be more difficult than is indicated by (their) ratings of individual infant behaviors."

Maternal perceptions of difficult temperament in infancy, the researchers note, is associated with significantly increased risk of behavior problems both pre-school and later in life.

Langkamp and colleagues say their study suggests that "maternal perception of temperament should be a concern for those who provide health care for preterm infants. Physicians should watch for mothers who perceive their infant's temperament as more difficult than it appears to be. These mothers may need more emotional and social support to care for their preterm infant more effectively and positively."

The pediatricians also measured the quantity and quality of the mothers' social support networks, using a standard psychological index that gauges the help they receive with daily tasks, satisfaction with visits from family, help in crises, emergency child care, satisfaction with communication from a male partner and another support person, and community involvement.

They found a significant relationship between a mother's perception of her infant's general temperament and the scope and quality of her social network.

The research was supported by a grant from the Perinatal Foundation in Madison, Wisconsin.
The Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics is published bi-monthly by the Society for Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics. For information about the journal, contact: Mary Sharkey at (212) 460-9112.

Posted by the Center for the Advancement of Health

For information about the Center, contact Richard Hebert, (202) 387-02829.

Center for Advancing Health

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