Pensacola – Overprotective parenting played an important role in the development of psychiatric problems in those born with an extremely low birth weight, according to research performed in part by an assistant professor at the University of West Florida.
Dr. Kimberly Day, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology, completed the recently published research as part of her postdoctoral fellowship at the Offord Centre for Child Studies at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, in Canada.
The study examined 81 extremely low birth weight survivors born from 1977 to 1982 who were matched with 87 people who were born with a normal birth weight who have been followed since that time. Dr. Saroj Saigal, a professor emeritus in the Department of Pediatrics at McMaster University, started the study in which the participants were assessed up to ages 29-36.
Prior research has shown that children born with an extremely low birth weight, which is less than 2.2 pounds, are at an increased risk for anxiety problems but at a decreased risk for alcohol or substance use disorders when they reach adulthood than those born with a normal birth weight. Meanwhile, if a child with a normal birth weight has an overprotective parent, they have been found to have higher levels of anxiety and higher levels of alcohol or substance use disorders, Day said. However, no research had studied the impact of parenting on those born with an extremely low birth weight.
“For this study, we looked at whether overprotective parenting would mediate the association between being born with an extremely low birth weight and these disorders in adulthood,” Day said. “And it actually matched the research with those born with a normal birth weight, where if a child was born with an extremely low birth weight and they reported having an overprotective parent, they were more likely to report having an anxiety disorder and alcohol or substance use disorder.”
The study Day co-authored with the study leader, Dr. Louis Schmidt, a professor in the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour – and five other researchers – showed that overprotective parenting accounted for 53 percent of the association between extremely low birth weight status and the risk for anxiety disorder in adulthood. Overprotective parenting also accounted for 26 percent of the association between extremely low birth weight status and alcohol or substance use disorders in adulthood.
Day said it is natural for parents of infants born with an extremely low birth weight to be overprotective.
“They have this baby who barely made it out of the hospital alive. Some of the babies continue to have medical issues once they get home and for a long period of time,” she said. “And they might want to protect their child, or think that if they act this way, they can give their child the best start at life by protecting them as much as possible.
“The negative side of overprotective parenting is that children need to get bumps and bruises and scrapes to learn,” Day said. “They need to learn how to control themselves, and how to handle novel situations.”
However, Day cautioned that the results of the study do not mean that all children born with an extremely low birth weight will have overprotective parents, or if they do, that they will have a psychiatric disorder later in life.
“It’s a slightly higher risk,” Day said. “So many children born with an extremely low birth weight or even those with an overprotective parent will be absolutely fine.”