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Mothers of low-birthweight babies perceive poorer infant health and greater caregiver burden than mothers of normal weight babies

Mothers of low birthweight (LBW) infants return home with their fragile infants already stressed by the birth and their infant's hospitalization and treatment. Once at home, they typically must deal with the need for ongoing monitoring and/or treatment of their babies at home. It is not surprising, then, that mothers of LBW infants perceive poorer infant health and more caregiving burden compared with mothers of normal birthweight (NBW) infants, conclude Kathleen M. May, D.N.Sc., R.N., and Jie Hu, M.S., R.N., of the University of Hawaii.

In a study supported by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (National Research Service Award fellowship F32 HS00045), the researchers analyzed questionnaire responses to compare perceptions of infant health, caregiving at home, and help-seeking by 30 mothers of LBW infants and 30 mothers of NBW infants. Mothers who perceived better infant health had more confidence in their ability to care for their babies and perceived this caregiving as less of a burden. Mothers who believed they were more prepared to care for their LBW infants at home also were more confident and, in turn, didn't feel as burdened.

Negative perceptions of infant health, lack of preparation and confidence, and caregiver burden at times overwhelmed the mothers of LBW infants. When this happened, they typically called friends or relatives for support. For more serious matters, they often called neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) nurses, even after their infants were home.

These findings underscore the need for communication and support by NICU nurses toward strengthening mothers' confidence in caring for LBW infants at home. Also, nurses can provide the mothers with information on resources for the long term and help the mothers recognize and appreciate small increments of positive change in their infants. A sense that some of the difficulties the mothers face will diminish with time fosters hope.

For more details, see "Caregiving and help seeking by mothers of low birthweight infants and mothers of normal birthweight infants," by Dr. May and Ms. Hu, in the July 2000 Public Health Nursing 17(4), pp. 273-279.

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