Premature babies pre-disposed to psychiatric problems in teens

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According to British researchers, being born very premature can affect a child's personality into adulthood.

Researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry looked at babies born before 33 weeks and compared their development with those born at full-term.

Very preterm birth (33 weeks' gestation) is associated with later neuromotor and cognitive impairment, reduced school performance, and psychiatric morbidity.

Several follow-up studies have demonstrated increased anxiety and social rejection and reduced self-esteem in preterm children and adolescents, but few studies have examined the effects of preterm birth on adult personality.

In this study 108, VPT 18 and 19-year-olds were compared to 67 born at full-term.

The group were given a questionnaire which indicates 3 aspects of personality: extraversion (sociability, liveliness, sensation seeking); neuroticism (anxiety, low mood, low self-esteem); and psychoticism (coldness, aggression, predisposition to antisocial behavior).

The questionnaire included 48 questions such as 'does your mood ever go up or down?' and 'do you enjoy co-operating with others?'

The researchers found that premature babies, in particular girls, were more likely to be anxious and withdrawn, and potentially at a higher risk of depression, and birth weight was also weakly associated with increased lie scores.

Those born prematurely also appeared to have lower levels of a personality trait called 'extraversion', indicating that they may have less confident and outgoing personalities.

They also had higher levels of the personality trait 'neuroticism', which indicates increased anxiety, lower mood and lower self-esteem.

The researchers suggest that the potential psychological trauma stemming from something as highly invasive as intensive care, should not be ignored.

The researchers, led by psychiatrist Dr Matthew Allin, concluded that young adults who are born VPT have different personality styles from their term-born peers.

This they suggest may be associated with an increased risk of psychiatric difficulties such as depression and anxiety disorders.

Premature baby charities say the findings are interesting and hope more research into the stress and trauma caused by the intensive care experience will be done.

The study is published in the journal Pediatrics.


  1. Wendy Wendy United Kingdom says:

    My daughter who is now 19 years old is giving me cause for concern as she appears to be suffering from anxiety, depression and is not mixing socially.  She appears to be less confident although intellectually she has done very well.  At the moment I believe she would benefit from cognitive therapy but we are at a loss as to how to proceed.  She worries about everything and is adamant that any little symptom is serious.  We have visiting numerous hospitals in the last 12 months for different ailments.  E.g. MRI as she was worried she may have a brain tumour.  Ultra-Sound Scan for pains in her stomach, both results have thankfully proven negative but we cannot convince her that she is it and well.  If there is anything you can suggest to improve her life and situation I would be so so grateful.

    • Tammy Tammy United States says:

      My daughter will turn 18 in Sept. she was born 31 weeks gestation and weighed 2'11. I am also seeing problems seems to get worse as she gets older, she doesn't make friends and seems to be depressed a lot and worries about things, she thinks she stupid. I am in the same boat as you and would also love any suggestions you have received or anyone else. Thanks so much for your post I now know I'm not alone.

      • sophie headford sophie headford United Kingdom says:

        Oh my goodness I am so relieved I too am not alone my daughter is 17 and was born at 24 weeks weighing 1lb8 she too is withdrawn filled with anxiety thinks she is ugly and fat and has an eating disorder has only 1 friend whom she is not really bothered about seeing. It is desperately sad as she should be enjoying this time in her life and she has no joy in her at all. I really do not want to go down a psychiatric route with medication and too much intervention but I am at a loss as to how I can help her. I really empathise with you both is there help out there will my daughter ever be happy??

  2. Wendy Wendy United Kingdom says:

    PS. She was born 23 and half weeks gestational age and weighted 1lb 8oz.  

  3. wow
    Juliet Juliet Australia says:

    So i notice no one has posted on here in ages, but i feel the need to put something up here... I was born at 27 weeks.. very prem apparently. Im now 26 years old, and i cant believe that i learn now that there may be a valid reason for how i felt as a teenager! I had quite a rough time with depression. I was academic at school, not unattractive,i had a great family life and i think i had no reason to be self conscious or have low self esteem. But i really struggled with depression and anxiety. I was very anti-social as well. But i am so grateful to be completely over it and haven't had a bout in many years. It was very hard at the time, and often i questioned 'why am i like this?' It was as if i had no reason to justify how i felt. It was like i was bad to be feeling this way because surely there was nothing wrong with me. I felt as if was not entitled to be depressed. So i find this article quite interesting and i would agree with most things it says. Thank you

  4. natalie natalie United States says:

    It not true I'm premature my mom had me when she was 5 months pregant and I make lots of friends

  5. Katherine Katherine United States says:

    Natalie, I am glad that you have not experienced any depression.  You need to keep in mind that one experience, such as yours does not invalidate the statistical evidence of many.  There are always exceptions.  

    I was born at 34 weeks and had a good birth weight (5lbs 6 ounces).  I was in the NICU for 2 weeks.  This was back in the early 80's when they did not dim the lights ir allow the mother to hold or touch the baby in the isolette.  They are now trying to make the NICU surroundings as unintrusive and gentle as possible.  You were likely born when they started making changes to the NICU and allowed "Kangaroo Care" with your mother.  The bright lights, loud alarms sounding, the constant probing and lack of physical contact in the NICU was much worse 30 years ago.  It has been shown to contribute to psychological trauma in premature and ill neonates.

  6. Melinda Melinda Australia says:

    I have always been painfully shy, anxious, hypersensitive, had low self esteem and felt depressed. After all these years of being called stupid and a "sook", it is good for me to understand why I feel the way that I do.

  7. Hilary P Hilary P United States says:

    I am so appreciative of all the stories posted, we were so grateful that our son made it out of the nicu that we had no idea that there could be other issues as years go by.
    He is 12 and having more and more anxiety issues, very shy and confident issues. How can we help him??

    • Melinda O'Connor Melinda O'Connor Australia says:

      Maybe see if he is willing to see a counsellor or something, someone he can talk to who isn't family. Sometimes it is harder to talk to someone related to you, because you can't truly let go and say whatever you want. I have found Cognitive Behavioural Therapy has helped a bit: looking at my thoughts and trying to turn the negative or unhelpful ones around. It is so great to see that you want to help him, and you're noticing the issues. My parents, as much as I love them and they were wonderful parents, didn't know how to cope with it, and I didn't get the help I needed until I was 16, and had been self harming for 3 years. I didn't manage to stop self harming until I was 19.

      Maybe you could talk to a GP or someone, I'm not sure if it is any different for younger teens/adolescents. I wish you and your family all the best. Your son is so lucky to have you.

  8. Kylie Syvinski Kylie Syvinski United States says:

    Hi.....I was Born 23 weeks and (1lbs 8ounces). I was in the NICU / in the Hospital for 99 days and I'm 16 yrs old right now but I found this article interesting bc I've been suffering from very high anxiety and somewhat depression and mood swings or when my mood drops out of no where. and I thought it was just me but I know now that I'm not alone, also I've been very interested in what being Premature is about and what more problems it brings in the future. Because you see I have ADID which is attention deficit inattentive disorder and I can tell its not very common but I do have some challenges which are Vision, hearing, and learning disability so when I was not even I think two months old I had to get laser eye surgery bc I had so much scarred tissue that if I didn't get it I would be blind today. But I try to push myself daily to become better even with my disabilities and become successful. Plus with me having Anxiety , I got Hand Tremors so I try breathing techniques but it doesn't work very well and I wanted to know what causes me to have them all the time now bc it gets worse. but I hope you guys have a amazing and prosperous day/years and who ever is reading this I hope your life is going great and hopefully you see my name all over the world (for good reasons).   -K.L.S

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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