Relationship dynamics: the protective effect of relationship satisfaction and dependency on parents’ mental health after having a preterm baby
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El Bebek Gül Bebek Association, Istanbul, Turkey
Fatih Sultan Mehmet Vakıf University, Istanbul, Turkey
Submission date: 2021-02-10
Final revision date: 2021-07-04
Acceptance date: 2021-07-08
Online publication date: 2021-08-28
Publication date: 2021-08-28
Health Psychology Report 2021;9(4):372–387
Having a premature infant who is hospitalized with the risk of death and potential health problems is a traumatic experience for many parents. The present study investigated the depression, anxiety, stress, and post-traumatic growth (PTG) experienced by couples after the premature birth of their babies in terms of their relationship dynamics.

Material and methods:
The study was conducted on 209 individuals – 159 mothers (76.1%) and 50 fathers (23.9%) – who had premature babies born at or before 32 weeks of gestation. The participants completed the Relationship Assessment Scale, Emotional Dependency Scale, Post-Traumatic Growth Inventory, the Depression, Anxiety, and Stress Scale, and a sociodemographic form. For interpretation of the data, intervariable relationships were analyzed using the Pearson correlation coefficient, and the mediation models were analyzed by the regression-based bootstrapping technique using the PROCESS Macro.

The relationship satisfaction and emotional dependency experienced by parents had a positive correlation with PTG following preterm birth. Relationship satisfaction was associated with lower levels of depression, anxiety, and stress. Emotional dependency was correlated with lower levels of depression and stress but not anxiety. For the mediating variables, it was found that depression and anxiety had a full mediating role between relationship satisfaction and PTG but stress did not. It was determined that depression had a partial mediating role between emotional dependency and PTG but anxiety and stress did not.

The study findings revealed the importance of establishing family- and baby-centered neurodevelopmental neonatal intensive care units (NICUs). The results suggested that having healthcare professionals, primarily nurses and doctors, make observations about the relationship dynamics of parents during their stay at the NICU and guide parents to receive psychological support if they perceive weaknesses in the relationship – since such weaknesses predict possible risks of depression, anxiety and stress – would support the functionality of families. The findings are discussed, and future directions are suggested.

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