Parental Stress and NICU

Susie McGee
parental stress and NICU

Parental stress and NICU hospitalization of infants often go hand in hand. How do you go about caring for yourself when every thought and concern you have is about the health of your baby?

The NICU Experience

The statistics are staggering as the number of premature babies born each year totals approximately 30 percent of births. Every week, over 10,000 infants are placed in a NICU after birth. While the majority of these are preemies, infants may have other health problems, including birth injuries, congenital defects, infections, and breathing problems. Whatever the reason for your infant's stay in a critical care unit, it is easy to understand the connection between parental stress and NICU hospitalization of a child.

Whether or not you expected your baby to be placed in the NICU, nothing really prepares you for the sights and sounds that surround your infant as the doctors and nursing staff care for him or her. While you may have pictured a perfect birth with friends and family waiting outside the delivery room waiting to join you in the celebration of the arrival of your newborn, you immediately have to recover from the exhilaration and pain of childbirth in order to focus on the care of your child. In the meantime, however, who cares for you?

About Parental Stress and NICU Hospitalizations

A birth that results in an infant being placed in NICU is often far from the idyllic picture that parents might have expected. The mother may have experienced a traumatic labor and delivery, or she may have had an emergency Cesarean delivery. Before she can even begin to focus on her own care, however, she is overcome with worry for her newborn.

Emotions can range from the following:

  • Guilt over the condition of the baby, although in the majority of cases the parents have done nothing wrong
  • Feelings of loss over not being able to carry the baby full term
  • Regret over not experiencing the idyllic birth that was imagined
  • Physical pain and exhaustion which can take a toll on you mentally and emotionally
  • Regret over not having birth pictures, video, etc.
  • Feeling of loss over not being able to hold and/or nurse the newborn immediately after birth-bonding moments delayed

Emotional Rollercoaster

While many mothers experience that emotional rollercoaster that comes with the birth of a child, mothers who have given birth to critically ill children experience a compounded emotional experience. Feelings can range from anger, gratitude, love, disappointment, and fear to blame, grief, sadness, worry, and powerlessness.

In many cases, mothers refuse to even acknowledge their own needs out of the need to worry and care for their infant. While this is normal, it can actually complicate the parental stress and NICU experience.

What Can You Do?

How can you take care of yourself while at the same time stay strong for your child?

  • Recognize that all of the emotions you are experiencing are normal.
  • While it's great to talk to friends and family, you may need to speak to a professional, such as a counselor or social worker.
  • Bond with your baby through whatever means possible, even if that means simply spending some time talking or singing to him while he is in the critical care unit.
  • Take photos of your newborn. In the future as you look back on those critical days and/or weeks, you'll be glad you have photos of every event in your child's life.
  • Keep the lines of communication open with your partner while recognizing that you both may deal with your worry and your grief in different ways. Your job is to support each other.
  • Take it one hour and one day at a time. Don't create unrealistic expectations for yourself or your child.
  • Take care of your body by getting plenty of rest, eating a healthy, well-balanced diet, drinking lots of water, and limiting junk food.
  • Find ways to express your emotions, such as keeping a journal, diary, or calendar, writing a poem, sketching or drawing, or creating a scrapbook.
  • Find time for yourself to relax and unwind, even if only for a few moments.
  • Talk to others who have gone through similar experiences.
  • Celebrate every small victory and remember the blessings you have every day.
Parental Stress and NICU