Having a premature baby is scary and stressful, even when the infant is cared for in a top-quality neonatal intensive care unit. Parents often develop anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress symptoms as they worry about their child, and they can struggle to adjust to the difference between what they’d expected parenthood would be like and the reality of having a preemie.
Even after a baby leaves the NICU, the after-effects can linger in parents, causing them to be overprotective later in the child’s life.
Fortunately, researchers are increasingly exploring what can be done to help parents cope with the stress. And a team led by doctors and researchers here have developed an approach that showed promise in a controlled trial with 105 mothers of preemies.
The approach involved educating the mothers about PTSD – as well as the sorts of thoughts and feelings common among NICU parents – some physical relaxation techniques, and ways to change negative perceptions the moms might have developed about their infants and the parenting experience.
The moms who participated in the new intervention technique reported significantly lower levels of trauma and depression than the other moms, who were given a 45-minute introduction on how the NICU works and parenting of premature infants, then referred to a parent mentor program for support and coping strategies.
The new technique was presented in a half-dozen sessions, each under an hour long, spread over several weeks, and the researchers have written a manual designed to teach therapists the method in eight hours.