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Infertility and early parent–infant interactions


Diane Holditch-Davis School of Nursing, CB#7460 Carrington Hall, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7460, USA.


Approximately 50% of infertile couples will become parents through pregnancy or adoption, but they experience major difficulties while working towards this goal. Infertility treatments are associated with physical pain and psychological distress, and adoption procedures are prolonged and emotionally stressful. The extent to which these stressors alter the parenting of these couples is not known. The purpose of this study, therefore, was to examine the early parent–infant interactions in infertile couples who become parents through pregnancy or adoption. Two groups of infertile couples (30 who achieved pregnancy and 21 who adopted) and a group of 19 couples without fertility problems were observed interacting with their infants twice, 7 to 21 days after the infant's arrival and a week later, at a time when both parents were at home. Their babies were between 9 days and 5 months of age. Behaviours of the mother, father and infant were recorded every 10 seconds, beginning when the baby was picked up and ending when the baby was put down asleep or 1½ hours had passed. Repeated measures ANOVAs were used to compare the three groups over the observations. There were no differences between fertile and infertile biological parents. Adopted infants showed more alertness, less sleeping, more smiles, and more looking than biological infants. Adoptive mothers spent less time as the sole interactor. Adoptive parents spent more time in playing with their infants and held and touched them less than did biological parents. Infertility, therefore, does not appear to affect early parenting. In general, the amounts of behaviours exhibited by infertile biological parents were very close to those of fertile parents. Differences in the behaviours of adoptive as compared to biological parents can best be explained as responses to the behaviours of their older infants, rather than as evidence of different parenting styles.