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A prospective study was conducted to investigate the perceptions of 21 mothers of singleton babies weighing 1500 g or less Six in-depth interviews were held with each respondent from 1 week after delivery to 3 months after the baby's discharge from hospital Diaries and Neonatal Perception Inventories supplied additional data Six phases were identified each characterized by certain critical factors related to the mother's emotional state, her perceptions of the baby, and family responses Significant statistical differences were found between those mothers who did not feel ready to take the infant home and the rest of the sample Those who were not ready demonstrated a marked difficulty in establishing and maintaining relationships and held very inappropnate perceptions of the baby These findings have important implications for the discharge of very low birthweight babies after a prolonged stay in hospital