Greater brain response to emotional expressions of their own children in mothers of preterm infants: an fMRI study

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Abstract

OBJECTIVE:

The birth of a preterm infant and Neonatal Intensive Care Unit hospitalization constitute a potentially traumatic experience for mothers. Although behavioral studies investigated the parenting stress in preterm mothers, no study focused on the underlying neural mechanisms. We examined the effect of preterm births in mothers, by comparing brain activation in mothers of preterm and full-term infants.

STUDY DESIGN:

We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure the cerebral response of 10 first-time mothers of preterm infants (gestational age < 32 weeks and/or birth weight < 1500) and 11 mothers of full-term infants, viewing happy-, neutral- and distress-face images of their own infant, along with a matched unknown infant.

RESULTS:

While viewing own infant's face preterm mothers showed increased activation in emotional processing area (i.e., inferior frontal gyrus) and social cognition (i.e., supramarginal gyrus) and affiliative behavior (i.e., insula).

CONCLUSION:

Differential brain activation patterns in mothers appears to be a function of the atypical parenthood transition related to prematurity.

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