Sibling adjustment following the birth of a premature infant

Samantha R Johnston, Pace University


The current study attempted to evaluate the impact of the birth of a premature infant combined with parental stress on the adjustment of older siblings. The adjustment of toddler and preschool-aged siblings following the birth of a premature infant was compared to that of siblings subsequent to the birth of a healthy, full-term neonate. While many researchers have examined the responses of parents to the birth of a premature infant, few have documented the impact on siblings. The sample included mothers and fathers of at least two children (N = 85). Participants in this study were divided into two samples: a NICU group (n = 30) and a non-NICU group (n = 55). The NICU families included families who had an infant treated in the NICU at New York University (NYU) Langone Medical Center-Bellevue Hospital Center, or they were recruited from the community. The non-NICU families included families of healthy, full-term infants as a comparison group. Non-NICU families were recruited from the community and were utilized to gather information on family members of children who were not hospitalized in a NICU. One caregiver filled out the Child Behavior Checklist for Ages 1.5–5 (CBCL/1.5–5) (Achenbach & Rescorla, 2000) to evaluate the older sibling's adjustment since the infant's birth. The Parenting Stress Index—Third Edition (PSI) (Abidin, 1995) was utilized to assess the degree of stress related to an individual's parenting and the parent's overall level of stress as a result of life events. Parents of both premature and healthy, full-term infants completed these questionnaires, and the results of the two groups were compared and contrasted. Contrary to expectations, the obtained results indicated that elevated levels of parental stress and child adjustment difficulties were greater in non-NICU families than NICU families. Additionally, in the overwhelming majority of the interactions, parental stress variables were predictive of increased behavior problems in non-NICU but not in NICU siblings. The rationale for the obtained results as well as clinical implications for work with families was discussed. Additionally, limitations of the present study, directions for future research, and the relevance of the current findings within the field of school-clinical psychology were addressed. Ultimately, this study is the first step to elucidate the experiences of siblings of premature infants and to develop appropriate preventative and intervention tools for these families.

Subject Area

Developmental psychology|Clinical psychology

Recommended Citation

Johnston, Samantha R, "Sibling adjustment following the birth of a premature infant" (2010). ETD Collection for Pace University. AAI3430670.



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