Objective: To test whether postnatal psychological distress in parents of babies with congenital malformations is reduced by prenatal diagnosis.
Methods: A prospective observational longitudinal cohort study was conducted at two Norwegian hospitals. We included 293 parents of babies with congenital malformations (prenatal detection rate: 36.5%) referred for neonatal surgery and 249 parents of healthy babies (comparison group). Parental psychological responses were assessed on three postnatal occasions by psychometric instruments (GHQ-28, STAI-X1, and IES).
Results: Significantly increased psychological distress (GHQ-28) was reported by parents who received prenatal diagnosis as compared to postnatal diagnosis; acutely 28.9 versus 24.4, P = 0.006 (comparison group: 19.6); at 6 weeks 26.8 versus 21.5, P < 0.001 (comparison group: 17.7); and at 6 months 22.6 versus 18.7, P = 0.015 (comparison group: 16.6). Mothers consistently reported higher levels of distress than fathers. Multiple linear regression analysis showed that prenatal diagnosis and being a mother significantly predicted severity of acute psychological distress. At 6 weeks and 6 months, mortality and associated anomalies were significant independent predictors of psychological distress.
Conclusion: Controlling for other covariates, we found that prenatal diagnosis of congenital malformations was a significant independent predictor of acute parental psychological distress after birth.