Are Preterm Parents Happy?

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Do parents of preterm children experience increased distress early in their children’s lives?

According to new research by the University of Warwick, parents of very premature or very low birth weight babies have the same life satisfaction as parents of full-term babies, when their children reach adulthood.

Well, speaking from experience, the answer to this is a resounding YES.

In May 2011, my son was born 28+2 weeks gestation – too small and born too soon. Weighing just 1lb 9ozs (730 grams); the equivalent to a small bag of sugar, Freddie had less than a 50% survival chance and was diagnosed in neonatal with ‘extreme prematurity and extreme low birth weight’. With less than a 50% chance of survival, it took 82 days in hospital before we finally took our son home (see photo) breathing from an oxygen cylinder. It was the hardest year of my life.


This new research analyses the health and wellbeing of 446 parents of babies. The study showed that parents of VP (Very Premature) and VLBW (Very Low Birth Weight) babies were confronted with more challenging situations during their children’s life: their child’s different start in neonatal intensive care, a higher rate of disability (e.g. 38.8% of VP/VLBW had disability in childhood compared to 5.7% of term born), poorer schooling, mental health problems and peer relationship problems of very preterm children that were challenging for parenting.

I can vouch for all of these statements above. Thankfully, I am blessed and can report that my son has surpassed all expectations, but we know our story is indeed, rare.

Freddie McGill World Prematurity Day

By the time their children had reached the age of twenty-seven, their life satisfaction was equal in scores to that of parents of healthy term babies. This is a testament to resilience, adaptability, and coping of parents of children of very preterm children, and really good news that life can be bright after a very difficult start. (Professor Dieter Wolke)

Mental Health

This unique study – which followed all children and families at seven time points, from birth to adulthood of the children – also investigated the challenges in childhood that still affect the quality of life of parents when their children are adults. Led by Professor Dieter Wolke from the Department of Psychology and Warwick Medical School, this pioneering study traced the lives of children who were born very preterm (VP), or with a very low birth weight (VLBW) – and their parents – from birth until they turned twenty-seven.

It is not disability, academic performance, or how good the parent-child relationship was – rather, the crucial factor was whether the children had good mental health and good peer relationships in childhood that determined whether parents had a high quality of life when their children were adults.

The research, ‘Very Preterm Birth and Parents’ Quality of Life 27 Years Later’, is published in the journal Pediatrics. It was co-authored by Nicole Baumann at the University of Warwick and Dr Barbara Busch and Prof. Peter Bartmann at the Department of Neonatology, University Hospital Bonn, Germany.


You can download the research paper below.


VP babies are defined as having been born at fewer than 32 weeks gestation, and VLBW babies were born weighing less than 1500 grams. Just take a look at my son who was born VP and VLBW – he had less than a 50% chance of survival!

Parents of premature babies as happy as other parents by adulthood

  • Parents of premature and very low birth weight babies have same life satisfaction as parents of full-term babies, when their children reach adulthood – new University of Warwick research
  • Pioneering study traced lives of children born very preterm, or with a very low birth weight, and term born children – and their parents – for 27 years
  • Parents had life satisfaction and quality of life assessed – found that they had the same levels as parents of healthy kids despite preterm children more often having disability and schooling problems
  • Parents’ life satisfaction and wellbeing – whether born preterm or term – tended to be high if children were happy and had friends in childhood

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