Are premature babies more likely to suffer anxiety in adulthood?

Babies born prematurely can often suffer trauma during medical intervention, increasing the possibility of the brain developing differently. Not only that, but the parents of babies born early may be more concerned about them, introducing the child to an anxiety-filled upbringing.

It is known that babies born before 32 weeks, or those who weigh less than 3lbs 5oz have lower cognitive ability than those born at full term and have an increased risk of showing autistic behaviour.

It has also been previously suggested that those born prematurely may be more likely to suffer anxiety – research was unable to prove whether this trait is a result of lower intelligence. However, the latest study has suggested the link between premature babies and signs of anxiety remains true, regardless of the child’s cognitive skills.

Researchers at the University of Warwick studied the personalities of 200 young people born very early or underweight in 1985/6, with another 197 born at term in the same maternity units.

The study found that in terms of personality traits such as introversion and neuroticism, were significantly higher for those born prematurely than those born at term. It was also found that they were reporting increased levels of autistic spectrum behaviours and less likely to take risks.

Researchers say that this “cluster of personalities” can lead to a “socially withdrawn personality”. They will often show traits of worry, low social engagement, appear less communicative and less interested in risk taking.

Professor Dieter Wolke from the University of Warwick, said that the scores of premature or low birth weight adults on the socially withdrawn scale were high – Wolke suggests that this is a result of the alterations in the brain structure and functioning that comes with premature birth-brain development.

“The physiological circumstances of these babies’ birth might help explain the higher rates of career and relationship difficulties in adulthood.”

Wolke believes it is important to analyse these links in order to ensure these babies live fulfilling lives.

Research suggests that many adults born prematurely are less likely to progress to high education or work well-paid jobs. Premature babies may also find it harder to socialise, find long-term partners and have a family.

Professor Celso Arango, European College of Neuropsychopharmacology suggests that personality is an expression of the brain function. If the brain functions abnormally, it will impact the personality.

Premature babies often begin their life in intensive care. The start of their life is difficult, with needles and tubes being replaced and removed every day.

Arango said; “Currently we do not know what the mechanics are, by which preterm or low birth weight increases the risk of socially withdrawn personalities. In this study, affected children had lower IQ and the truth is that these children may be more insecure and have a different approach to life as a response to the difficulties experienced.”

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Written by Ellen Lees
Head of Content.

Written by Ellen Lees

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