Young maternal age and preterm birth: Specific challenges during the transition to motherhood

Nicola Sheeran, Liz Jones, Jen Rowe, Melanie Zimmer-Gembeck

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (Book)Researchpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


This chapter presents an overview of the research on preterm birth and adolescent parenting, highlighting the challenges faced during the transition to parenthood in these contexts. Also presented is current research investigating how these factors combine to influence the experience of parenting for young mothers of preterm infants. Parenting as an adolescent has been associated with a range of negative outcomes for both the young woman and her infant. Similarly, preterm birth is also associated with a number of acute and chronic difficulties that make parenting more challenging. It is well documented that maternal mental health influences the woman's ability to parent and, as such, factors that increase stress, anxiety and depression can have ongoing implications for their capacity to parent effectively. Both preterm birth and adolescent parenting are associated with an increased risk of distress and mental health issues. However, little research has investigated how these two factors combine to influence the parenting experience for young women who have preterm infants, despite a theoretical double risk. As such, the research presented in this chapter investigated the experience of parenting, both during the early or acute stages of a preterm birth, and longitudinally over the first year of the infant's life. Quantitative and qualitative longitudinal data from adult mothers of preterm infants, adolescent mothers of full term infants, and adolescent mothers of preterm infants is presented highlighting the specific challenges, as well as similarities, in experiences of parenting. Results from the quantitative data suggest adult mothers of preterm infants reported higher levels of psychological distress pre-discharge than did adolescent mothers but this difference had dissipated post-discharge. Qualitative data findings supported this result, suggesting that parenting for young women was not unduly altered by having a preterm infant, with few overall differences in the parenting experience for young mothers of preterm and full term infants. Preterm birth compounded the everyday challenges of motherhood for young women, by emphasizing transportation difficulties and placing women in more frequent contact with people who they perceived negatively judged them. Conversely, adult mothers were better able to negotiate the hospital system, eliciting parenting support from staff and other parents. These findings help challenge prevailing assumptions about the transition to motherhood and have implications for service delivery and interventions.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationParenting
Subtitle of host publicationChallenges, Practices and Cultural Influences
EditorsPeter Barberis, Stelios Petrakis
PublisherNova Science Publishers
Number of pages33
ISBN (Print)9781622578818
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes

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