Prematurity: Interplay between psychological and biological risk factors leading to infant psychopathology

Miri Keren, Galia Tyano, Leah Sirota

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Concepts such as risk factor, vulnerability, protective factor and resiliency have become central in the field of developmental psychopathology. The birth of a very-low-birth weight premature baby can be used as a paradigm of the interplay between these factors. Indeed, prematurity implies for both infant and parents, biological as well as psychological risk factors. They may interact in such a way that the child's emotional, cognitive and social development will deviate from normal. Understanding the psychological impact of premature birth includes reference to both the normal psychological processes that characterize pregnancy that are jeopardized by a premature, often traumatic delivery, and to the special significance of being a parent in the Special Care Nursery. The contrast between the expected appearance of the baby and that of the sick-looking, tiny premature, together with uncertainty about its medical status, often affect the parents' bonding process. In addition, parents must learn quickly to cope with issues such as total dependence on a very busy team, loss of control of the care of their baby, and their unclear roles as parents. Added to these risk factors are the specific neurobehavioral characteristics of premature babies, which often make it hard for parents to read their cues and respond to them properly. A clinical vignette illustrates the chain of psychological and biological events that lead to severe disturbance of the early parent-child relationship. It also brings up the question of psychosocial intervention in the Special Care Nursery, both in terms of early detection of families at risk and the types of intervention.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)424-429
Number of pages6
Issue number11-12
StatePublished - 2000


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