This study examined child health worry among mothers of medically fragile infants with differing health problems and identified factors associated with maternal worry.
Medically fragile infants were term (38%) and preterm (62%) infants who had a life-threatening health problem that necessitated a long hospitalization and dependence on technology for survival. The 78 mothers were recruited during their infants' hospitalization. Their mean age was 26 years. Most had a high school education, were married, and were from diverse ethnic/racial backgrounds.
Descriptive correlational design using data from a larger longitudinal study.
Mothers completed questionnaires while the infants were hospitalized.
Instruments measured worry about the child's health (Child Health Worry Scale), maternal characteristics (demographic questionnaire), satisfaction with family (Family APGAR scale), illness-related stress (Parental Stressor Scale: Infant Hospitalization), and illness-related factors (diagnostic category, age/days hospitalized, and technology dependence).
The highest source of worry was medical problems, followed by worry about whether the child would be normal, when the child could come home, and whether the child would always be sick. There was no significant difference in level of worry among mothers of infants with chronic lung disease, congenital airway anomalies, severe gastrointestinal problems, complex congenital heart disease, neurologic diagnoses, and those grouped as other. Fewer days hospitalized, lower maternal education, and higher stress associated with the child's appearance and behavior were related to higher levels of maternal worry.
Mothers of critically ill infants, regardless of the type of diagnosis, worry about aspects of their infant's health. Mothers, especially mothers with a low educational level, need support from nurses to understand and cope with their infant's illness to reduce distress associated with worry.