Mismatch Between Perceived and Objective Indices of Infant Vulnerability: NICU Status and Parental Mental Health



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Parental misperceptions of child vulnerability have detrimental effects on parenting behaviors and childrenï¾’s health. Hence, there is a critical need to understand factors that affect the alignment between childrenï¾’s objective vulnerability and parental perceptions of childrenï¾’s medical vulnerability. The goals of this study were to measure the alignment between objective and perceived infant vulnerability, assess differences in alignment between infants admitted to neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) and well-baby nurseries, and determine how such alignment differed across parental mental health risk. The BabySeq Project enrolled 519 parents of 325 infants, and data from two timepoints across seven months were explored. Two novel variables were created ï¾– objective vulnerability and match/mismatch scores. Objective vulnerability represented infantsï¾’ medical risk while match/mismatch scores represented the alignment between objective and perceived vulnerability. Welchï¾’s t-tests showed that match/mismatch, objective, and perceived vulnerability scores at the first timepoint were significantly greater among NICU infants than well-baby nursery infants. Furthermore, parents at risk for anxiety at the first timepoint and parents at risk for depression at the second timepoint perceived their infants to be significantly more vulnerable than parents not at risk for anxiety or depression, respectively. In this first look at longitudinal data from NICUs and well-baby nurseries, results show that vulnerability perceptions, including mismatch with objective vulnerability, are associated with infant medical health and parental mental health status. Findings underscore the importance of identifying both objective and perceived measures of infant health to better understand ways to promote optimal parent-child interactions and child health.



Honors Biomedical Sciences