Preterm birth is a significant stressor for parents and may adversely impact maternal parenting behavior. However, findings have been inconsistent. The objective of this meta-analysis was to determine whether mothers of preterm children behave differently (eg, less responsive or sensitive) in their interactions with their children after they are discharged from the hospital than mothers of term children.


Medline, PsychInfo, ERIC, PubMed, and Web of Science were searched from January 1980 through May 2014 with the following keywords: “premature”, “preterm”, “low birth weight” in conjunction with “maternal behavio*r”, “mother-infant interaction”, “maternal sensitivity”, and “parenting”. Both longitudinal and cross-sectional studies that used an observational measure of maternal parenting behavior were eligible. Study results relating to parenting behaviors defined as sensitivity, facilitation, and responsivity were extracted, and mean estimates were combined with random-effects meta-analysis.


Thirty-four studies were included in the meta-analysis. Mothers of preterm and full-term children did not differ significantly from each other in terms of their behavior toward their children (Hedges’ g = −0.07; 95% confidence interval: −0.22 to 0.08; z = −0.94; P = .35). The heterogeneity between studies was significant and high (Q = 156.42; I2 = 78.9, P = .001) and not explained by degree of prematurity, publication date, geographical area, infant age, or type of maternal behavior.


Mothers of preterm children were not found to be less sensitive or responsive toward their children than mothers of full-term children.

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