Dec 22 Giving parents of newborn premature
babies some help in better understanding and interacting with
their infants may make a difference in their children's
behaviour by the time they are ready for school, according to a
Children born prematurely tend to have higher rates of
behavioural problems, such as attention-deficit hyperactivity
disorder (ADHD), than peers born full term.
For the new study, reported in Pediatrics, researchers in
Norway tested a programme that gave parents of preemies help
right away, starting in the hospital.
"Preterm infants are often more fussy, give less eye contact
and are harder to understand for parents," said Marianne Nordhov
of the University Hospital of North Norway in Tromso, the lead
"They display signs of stress in a subtle way, such as
colour changes, 'jittery' movements and increased respiration
She and her colleagues randomly assigned parents of 146
preemies, born weighing under 2 kg (4 pounds, 6 ounces), to
either take part in the programme or stick with standard care
alone. They also recruited parents of 75 full-term infants for
In addition to help while the babies were still in the
hospital, the programme included four home visits from a nurse
over three months. The nurses gave them training in things such
as "reading" cues from their infant and interacting with the
baby through play.
At the age of five, Nordhov's team found, children whose
parents had been in the programme were showing fewer behaviour
problems such as inattention, aggression or withdrawn behaviour.
Based on reports from the parents, 29 percent of those
children scored in the "borderline" range on the
behaviour-problem scale. That compared with 48 percent of
premature children whose parents had not been in the programme.
Scores in the borderline range point to an increased risk
for behaviour problems such as ADHD.
"Our study has shown that only 12 hours of parental
education improves their knowledge and confidence, which in turn
improve the interaction with their infant in a beneficial way,"
"It is important that nurses and doctors spend time with
parents and teach them how to better interact and understand
this 'difficult' task of language."
A U.S. child psychologist not involved with the study said
the key point of the research was that the programme focused on
parenting skills from the beginning of an infant's life, rather
than from several years later as is common in the United States.
"Starting parent training early would be a wonderful thing,"
said Lori Evans, at the New York University Child Study Center.
With children's behavioural problems, she added, the earlier
they are tackled, the better.
(Reporting from New York by Amy Norton at Reuters Health;
editing by Elaine Lies and Ron Popeski)