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Pain. 2013 Sep;154(9):1831-9. doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2013.05.050. Epub 2013 Jun 5.

Parent behaviors moderate the relationship between neonatal pain and internalizing behaviors at 18 months corrected age in children born very prematurely.

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Neuroscience, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada.


Children born very preterm (≤ 32 weeks gestation) exhibit greater internalizing (anxious/depressed) behaviors compared to term-born peers as early as 2 years corrected age (CA); however, the role of early stress in the etiology of internalizing problems in preterm children remains unknown. Therefore, we examined the relationship between neonatal pain and internalizing behavior at 18 months CA in children born very preterm and examined whether parent behavior and stress moderated this relationship. Participants were 145 children (96 very preterm, 49 full term) assessed at 18 months CA. Neonatal data were obtained from medical and nursing chart review. Neonatal pain was defined as the number of skin-breaking procedures. Cognitive ability was measured with the Bayley Scales of Infant Development II. Parents completed the Parenting Stress Index III, Child Behavior Checklist 1.5-5, and participated in a videotaped play session with their child, which was coded using the Emotional Availability Scale IV. Very preterm children displayed greater Internalizing behaviors compared to full-term control children (P=.02). Parent Sensitivity and Nonhostility moderated the relationship between neonatal pain and Internalizing behavior (all P<.05); higher parent education (P<.03), lower Parenting Stress (P=.001), and fewer children in the home (P<.01) were associated with lower Internalizing behavior in very preterm children, after adjusting for neonatal medical confounders, gender, and child cognitive ability (all P>.05). Parent Emotional Availability and stress were not associated with Internalizing behaviors in full-term control children. Positive parent interaction and lower stress appears to ameliorate negative effects of neonatal pain on stress-sensitive behaviors in this vulnerable population.


Behavior; Infant; Internalizing; Mother-child interaction; Pain; Parent–child interaction; Prematurity; Preterm; Stress

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