Lending a Hand to Moms of Preemies

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Mothers of premature babies may develop PTSD but therapy may work

July 20, 2014 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

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(dailyRx News) The birth of a new baby, while joyful, can also bring a great deal of stress and anxiety — especially if the child arrived well before the due date.

Mothers of preemies in particular are at higher risk for post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD).

A recent study found that receiving sessions in cognitive behavioral therapy reduced symptoms of depression, anxiety and PTSD in these moms six months later.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of mental health treatment that helps individuals learn to recognize the links between thoughts and feelings and behaviors.

This form of therapy can help individuals learn to adjust the way they behave in response to various feelings to achieve better mental health.

"Seek help for depression and anxiety symptoms."

The study, led by Richard Shaw, MD, of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine in Palo Alto, California, looked at ways to reduce PTSD in mothers of preemies.

The researchers randomly divided 105 mothers into two groups.

One group attended either six or nine sessions to learn about a therapy called trauma-focused cognitive behavior therapy, focused on having a preterm baby.

The other group attended one session that educated parents about the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and how to parent a premature baby.

Then the scores of all the women were compared for psychology assessments that measured depression, anxiety and PTSD symptoms.

These assessments were conducted when the babies were born, a month later and then six months later.

The researchers found that the mothers who attended one of the two interventions had significantly lower scores on depression, anxiety and PTSD symptoms six months after their babies were born.

These differences were especially apparent when compared to the scores a month after the babies were born.

However, there wasn't much difference between the moms who attended six sessions and the moms who attended nine sessions.

"A brief 6-session intervention based on principles of trauma-focused cognitive behavior therapy was effective at reducing symptoms of trauma, anxiety, and depression in mothers of preterm infants," the authors wrote.

"Mothers showed increased benefits at the 6-month follow-up, suggesting that they continue to make use of techniques acquired during the intervention phase," they wrote.

Many therapists and mental health centers in most urban and rural areas offer services in cognitive behavioral therapy.

Trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy may be less available everywhere, but it should be available in most metropolitan areas.

The study was published July 21 in the journal Pediatrics. The research was funded by the National Institutes of Mental Health and the National Center for Research Resources and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences. The authors reported no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
July 20, 2014
Last Updated:
July 21, 2014