Premature Babies More Likely to Be Introverted, Have Anxiety

Preterm baby with eyes open lying in incubatorAccording to the CDC, 450,000 babies (1 in 9) were born prematurely in 2012. Premature birth continues to be a serious public health problem, accounting for 35% of infant deaths and contributing to a variety of developmental delays and health challenges.

Early birth may cause very premature babies—those born prior to 32 weeks gestation—and babies with a birth weight of less than 1500 grams (a little over three pounds), to experience long-term difficulties with employment and relationships. A study published in Archives of Disease in Childhood suggests that very preterm babies are more likely to be introverted and experience anxiety.

How Premature Birth Affects Personality

Doctors have long known that prematurity decreases the likelihood of survival and can lead to health issues. Previous research also suggests that babies born prematurely or with a very low birth weight are more likely to be on the autism spectrum.

To explore how prematurity might affect other traits, researchers studied 200 26-year-olds born prior to 32 weeks gestation or who had weighed less than 1500 grams at birth. These participants, who had been part of the earlier Bavarian Longitudinal Study, were compared to 197 other young adults who were born at or near term and within the normal weight range, in the same maternity units as the preterm babies.

Researchers assessed the participants’ personalities across five dimensions: introversion, openness to new experiences, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism (a measure of tenseness and anxiety). They found that participants with a low birth weight or who were born premature were more anxious and introverted but were also more agreeable.

Early Experiences and Adult Success

Scientists have already established a correlation between premature birth and difficulties later in life. For example, adults who were born prematurely have been shown to be less likely to secure well-paid jobs or pursue higher education. They are also more likely to experience difficulties making friends and establishing romantic relationships. The finding that premature birth affects personality may help explain these later challenges.

Though the study did not explore why or how prematurity has an effect on personality, the study’s authors suggest that premature children may often have early life experiences that differ from those of babies born full term. Premature babies may spend time in a neonatal intensive care unit, face intrusive medical procedures, or live with parents who are overprotective.

According to the CDC, a woman can reduce her risk of giving birth prematurely by:

  • Giving up smoking.
  • Avoiding drugs and alcohol.
  • Seeking prenatal medical care.
  • Notifying their doctors of any pregnancy complications or symptoms of preterm labor.

References:

  1. Preterm birth. (2014, December 23). Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/maternalinfanthealth/pretermbirth.htm
  2. Very early birth linked to introversion, neuroticism, risk aversion in adulthood. (2015, July 27). Retrieved from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/07/150727220204.htm

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  • beth

    beth

    July 29th, 2015 at 3:32 PM

    Not my preemie. She is the most outgoing little child that I have ever known!

  • Jane

    Jane

    July 30th, 2015 at 10:39 AM

    This is so sad because there are always these hurdles that parents of premature babies are often asked to jump. You used to feel like it was enough to get them past all of the physical difficulties and challenges that they could face, but now it seems that the problems go even deeper than those we once thought of.

  • tiernan

    tiernan

    July 31st, 2015 at 9:25 AM

    This research just goes to prove that we have to do more and more to stop babies form being born prematurely. It is dangerous for the health of the mother and it is dangerous for the long term health of the baby. Every family would benefit if we were able to drop those rates of premature births.

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