Consequences of Prematurity on Cortisol Regulation and Adjustment Difficulties: A 9-Year Longitudinal Study

A preterm birth represents a stressful event having potentially negative long-term consequences. Thirty-three children born preterm (<33 weeks gestational age) and eleven full-term children participated in a nine-year longitudinal study. Perinatal Risk Inventory (PERI) was used at birth to assess the perinatal stress. Salivary cortisol, collected four times a day over two consecutive days, was measured with radioimmunoassay technique at six months and nine years to assess the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Mothers reported post-traumatic symptoms on a self-report questionnaire 12 months after their child’s birth and children’s adjustment problems at 9 years of child age on the Child Behavior Checklist. Results showed a significant difference in cortisol regulation at nine years between preterm and full-term children but no differences in adjustment problems. Whereas biological factors (i.e., PERI, cortisol regulation at six months) explained cortisol at nine years, maternal post-traumatic symptoms were predictive of adjustment problems in their child. In conclusion, very preterm birth has some long-term consequences on the HPA-axis regulation at nine years. Although cortisol regulation is mostly influenced by biological factors, the presence of maternal post-traumatic symptoms predicts the manifestation of adjustment problems in both groups. This shows the importance of maternal psychological well-being for child development. Further research is needed to understand the exact consequences of premature birth on cortisol regulation and the implication for the child’s development and health.

Urfer Auriana
Turpin Hélène
Borghini Ayala
Plessen Kerstin Jessica
Morisod Harari Mathilde
Urben Sébastien
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Urfer, A. Turpin, H., Dimitrova, N., Borghini, A., Plessen K. J., Morisod Harari, M., & Urben, S. (2021). Consequences of Prematurity on Cortisol Regulation and Adjustment Difficulties: A 9-Year Longitudinal Study. Children, 9(1).