Objectives: To assess mothers' and fathers' psychological health 2 months after discharge of a very preterm infant. To describe the problems encountered with the child, the quality of the marital relationship, the organization of the family and to compare the answers made by mothers and fathers.
Population: Mothers having delivered before 33 weeks in two maternity units in Paris and in Rouen were contacted. Among the 38 mothers who were eligible, 21 accepted to participate. Their children were born between 26 weeks and 32 weeks and weighted from 630 to 2100 g.
Method: A semi-structured interview was conducted at home by a psychologist with each member of the couple. It lasted approximately 1 h. Each interview was tape-recorded and fully transcribed. The analysis allowed to discover the main themes emerging from the interviews and to search for the role of factors.
Results: Two months after discharge, mothers expressed anxiety and feelings of depression. Fathers noted considerable fatigue and both parents expressed concerns about the child's health and development. Marital dissatisfaction and behavioural symptoms in siblings were also noted. Mothers' difficulties were not linked to the degree of prematurity or length of stay in neonatal unit but with the baby's present health state, his rehospitalizations and maternal characteristics such as isolation, lack of support and previous perinatal loss. The mother's psychological organisation modifies the role of objective factors. Fathers seemed more able to cope with and overcome the traumatic event caused by the very preterm birth. They insisted on their role of support for the mother and the mother-child relationship.
Conclusion: The consequences of a very preterm birth are important and concern the whole family. After hospital discharge, the follow-up care of the very preterm baby should take the family social and psychological situation into account.