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The Development of Communication in Preterm Infant-Mother Dyads

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The present study examines the effects of gestational age and birthweight status on the development of infant and maternal behaviour as well as the (mutual) predictability between partners during face-to-face interaction at 6, 12 and 18 weeks of corrected age. Subjects are healthy fullterm infants (N = 6) and three groups of healthy preterm infants: small-for-gestational age (N = 6), and appropriate for gestational age, the latter being born after a pregnancy duration of less than 32 weeks (N = 6) or between 32 and 34 weeks (N = 6). Using dyadic sequential analyses, based on log-linear modelling and information statistics, for each individual infant-mother pair at each age, the effect of both partners on the behaviour of the other was quantified, while accounting for autocorrelational effects. In the majority of cases the interactions could be labelled as showing 'bidirectionality', particularly at 18 weeks. Mothers were more likely to be influenced by the previous behaviour of the infants than vice versa. No group differences were apparent in the way mothers were influenced by their infants. However, the small-for-gestational age preterm infants were less likely to be influenced by maternal behaviour, particularly at 6 and 12 weeks of age. A lower variability was the most common finding in infants who were not predictable from the previous behaviour of the mother. At 6 and 12 weeks they were less expressive and more often showed a monotonous behavioural pattern in which 'looking at mother's face without positive expressions' was shown during most of the interaction. As this lack of variability was more often found in SGA preterm infants, they were less predictable from their mother's behaviour than the fullterm and AGA preterm infants. These data suggest that having a low birthweight for gestational age may be a risk factor for a lack of 'bidirectionality' during early mother-infant interaction.

Affiliations: 1: Faculty of Human Movement Sciences, Department of Educational Sciences, Free University, Van der Boechorststraat 9, 1081 BT Amsterdam; 2: Faculty of Human Movement Sciences, Department of Educational Sciences , Free University, Van der Boechorststraat 9, 1081 BT Amsterdam; 3: Faculty of Psychological and Pedagogical Sciences, Department of Developmental Psychology, Free Unversity, Van der Boechorststraat 9, 1081 BT Amsterdam


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