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Moms of Preemies Face Health Problems, Too

Stress of Having Low-Birth-Weight Child Has Lasting Impact

Parents of Preemies Need Support

For more than a decade, Lynn T. Singer, PhD, a professor of environmental health sciences and pediatrics at Case Western Reserve University, has been studying the impact of stress on mothers who give birth to very low-birth-weight babies.

In a 2010 study that included close to 300 mothers followed for 14 years after the birth of a very low-birth-weight child, mothers of children with ongoing medical issues also had ongoing stress-related health issues, while mothers of healthier preemies had no more health problems than mothers of children who were not born prematurely.

Singer tells WebMD that having a good social support network appears to have a major impact on maternal satisfaction and mental and physical health.

“We have just begun to understand the importance of offering support services that help [lessen] parental stress during this time,” she says.

Jasmine Zapata, whose daughter Aameira was born weighing just 1 1/2 pounds in September 2010, would welcome such services.

As a medical student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Zapata is well aware that the stress she and her husband faced over the last year could eventually take a toll on their health.

Even so, Zapata says she has missed follow-up medical exams and is not taking care of herself the way she knows she should.

“Of course I know better, but I’ve been so focused on her that I haven’t had the time,” she tells WebMD.

Breiby, who lives in Spring Green, Wis., with her husband, Todd, and her now 4 1/2-year-old twins, understands.

She says one of the most important things parents of very low-birth-weight babies can do is seek support and recognize that they can’t do it alone.

Her husband ended up staying home with the babies during their twins’ first year while Breiby worked full time.

“For us the first few years were a whirlwind of juggling appointments,” she says. “It was all very ‘head down, plow forward, and get to the next thing.’”

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