Background Pregnancy on dialysis is increasingly being reported. This study evaluates the behavioural profile of the children of mothers on dialysis and the parental stress their mothers undergo when compared with a group of mothers affected by a different chronic disease (microcythaemia) and a group of healthy control mothers. Methods Between 2000 and 2012, 23 on-dialysis mothers gave birth to 24 live-born children in Italy (23 pregnancies, 1 twin pregnancy, one of the twins deceased soon after delivery); of these, 16 mothers and 1 father (whose wife died before the inquiry) were included in the study (1 mother had died and the father was unavailable; 2 were not asked to participate because their children had died and 3 were unavailable; children: median age: 8.5, min-max: 2-13 years). Twenty-three mothers affected by transfusion-dependent microcythaemia or drepanocitosis (31 pregnancies, 32 children) and 35 healthy mothers (35 pregnancies, 35 children; median age of the children: 7, min-max: 1-13 years) were recruited as controls. All filled in the validated questionnaires: 'Child Behaviour Checklist' (CBCL) and the 'Parental Stress Index-Short Form' (PSI-SF). Results The results of the CBCL questionnaire were similar for mothers on dialysis and healthy controls except for pervasive developmental problems, which were significantly higher in the dialysis group, while microcythaemia mothers reported higher emotional and behavioural problems in their children in 8 CBCL sub-scales. Two/16 children in the dialysis and 3/32 in the microcythaemia group had pathological profiles, as assessed by T-scores (p: ns). PSI-SF indicated a normal degree of parental stress in microcythaemia subjects and healthy controls, while mothers on dialysis declared significantly lower stress, suggesting a defensive response in order to minimize problems, stress or negativity in their relationship with their child. Conclusions According to the present analysis, the emotional and behavioural outcome is normal in most of the children from on-dialysis mothers. A 'positive defence' in the dialysis mothers should be kept in mind when tailoring psychological support for this medical miracle.
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