Mothers of extremely preterm babies may struggle more with mental health issues

Approximately 8% of all live births in Canada are preterm which can lead to both short- and long-term health issues as result. Not only does this cost the Canadian Health care system billions of dollars each year but can also create additional stress and lead to mental health disorders in new mothers.  

A recent study led by CHRIM Clinical Investigator, Dr. Deepak Louis found that mothers of preterm and full-term children had similar rates of incident mental disorders within 5 years postdelivery. Mental health disorders included mood and anxiety disorders, psychotic disorders, substance use disorders, and suicide or suicide attempts. Furthermore, the study found that mothers who had extremely premature infants had higher rates of mental health disorders as compared to mothers who delivered full term babies.

The retrospective cohort study used the Population Research Data Repository at the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy (MCHP) at the University of Manitoba which included all women who delivered liveborn singleton or twin babies in Manitoba between 1998 and 2013.  The study found that mothers of full-term children had a higher rate of any mental disorder in the first year while mothers of preterm children had higher rates from 2 to 5 years.

“Mothers and fathers of preterm infants experience significant stress and worry while their premature babies are in the NICU and beyond, predisposing them to mental disorders such as depression, anxiety and PTSD,” said Dr. Louis, assistant professor in the department of pediatrics and child health, University of Manitoba. “Our study confirmed this in a population cohort from Manitoba. Despite this knowledge, there are no routine screening for mental disorders or supports offered to these vulnerable parents across Canadian NICUs. And this needs to change immediately.

Targeted screening and support for new mothers who are most at risk would be beneficial.