Parental psychological distress and quality of life after a prenatal or postnatal diagnosis of congenital anomaly: A controlled comparison study with parents of healthy infants

Ana Fonseca, M.Sc., Bárbara Nazaré, M.Sc., Maria Cristina Canavarro, Ph.D.

Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, University of Coimbra, Coimbra, Portugal

Disabilirty and Health Journal, April 2012, Volume 5, Issue 2, Pages 67–74

Published Online: December 30, 2011





Parental early adjustment to a prenatal or postnatal diagnosis of congenital anomaly has been studied mainly within a pathological and deterministic perspective, giving us an inadequate view of the impact of the diagnosis.


Adopting a comprehensive approach on parental adjustment, we aimed to characterise the impact of the diagnosis on psychological distress and quality of life, in the early postdiagnosis stage. The effects of gender and the timing of the diagnosis were also examined.


In this cross-sectional study, 42 couples with healthy infants and 42 couples whose infants were prenatal or postnatally diagnosed with a congenital anomaly responded to the Brief Symptom Inventory-18 and to the World Health Organization Quality of Life–Brief instrument.


In the early postdiagnosis stage, parents whose infants were diagnosed with a congenital anomaly presented higher levels of psychological distress than did the parents of healthy infants (F2,79 = 6.23, p = .003), although they displayed similar levels of quality of life (F4,78 = 0.62, p = .647). Mothers reported more adjustment difficulties than fathers in both groups. Receiving the diagnosis in the prenatal period was associated with higher maternal psychological quality of life (Z = –2.00, p = .045).


The occurrence of a diagnosis of congenital anomaly during the transition to parenthood adds to an accumulation of stress-inducing events and manifests itself in psychopathological symptoms. Maintaining a positive evaluation of well-being may be understood as a parental resource to deal with the diagnosis. The importance of adopting a comprehensive perspective on parental adjustment is highlighted.