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NICU stress? You're not alone


NICU stress? You're not alone


Today I want to share with you an important article. It's from the New York Times in 2009 but is still very relevant.

NICU mother sad

We all know just how difficult the NICU is for the babies.  But sometimes we forget to recognize how incredibly stressful it is for parents.

This NYT article highlights research that has been shows just how traumatic it really is. Read the full article here: For Parents on NICU, Trauma May Last

The NICU was very much like a war zone, with the alarms, the noises, and death and sickness,” Ms. Roscoe said. “You don’t know who’s going to die and who will go home healthy

mother in car with her head on the wheel, sad NICU mom

Many parents don't realize that having a baby in the NICU has been shown to cause PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) in both mothers and fathers.  Actually, many NICU nurses aren't aware of this either.  It helps to understand that it is common for some parents to have significant stress from the NICU and it is completely understandable.  Effective treatments exist to help people recover from PTSD. If you are experiencing stress from your NICU experience, don't hesitate to seek out help from a psychologist/therapist.

The post-traumatic stress may take the form of nightmares or flashbacks. Sufferers may feel panic every time a beeper goes off in the intensive care unit, or they may avoid the trauma by not visiting the unit or by emotionally distancing themselves from their child. Over time, they may develop depression, anxiety, insomnia, numbness, anger and aggression. These symptoms, of course, can impair their abilities as parents.

The two important messages, in my opinion, are these:

1. Connect with other NICU families during your NICU stay. Research shows that it helps.

Ask if your hospital has a support group, or perhaps they know of former NICU parents who might be willing to talk with you. Sharing your story with others who understand also helps, so sharing your story here with the NICU Central community is a great place to start. Also, many incredible organizations exist to offer help and support - you can find several great choices on our Resources Page.

2. Seek help if you find yourself experiencing lasting stress as a result of the NICU.

Untreated P.T.S.D. can have lingering effects on the child. During the NICU stay, for instance, traumatized parents may find it hard to hold or even look at their child, and that can profoundly affect the baby’s attachment to the mother. Later, mothers might experience “vulnerable child syndrome,” in which they become so anxious that a minor medical event sends them into a panic. Normal, everyday risks can seem life-threatening; children can learn to gain unhealthy attention from physical complaints.


Hang in there, NICU families. The stress of having a baby in the NICU is real and overwhelming, but help is available if you need it and if you seek it out. Help will not just fall in your lap - not everyone understands how much you are suffering. You may have to muster up the strength to find the help you need. But you're worth it.  Your little one needed help, and there was no shame in your baby getting professional care when it was needed.  If you're having trouble sleeping, keeping depression at bay, find yourself with symptoms of stress that feel overwhelming, be brave and get yourself professional help.  If you ask for help and your doctor doesn't support you, share this article, along with the following research, with your doctor. If you still meet resistance, get another opinion.

NICU Stress Research

Analysis published in BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth

Stanford University Study published in the journal Psychosomatics

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill Study published in JOGNN

NICU mother upset crying

Now is your opportunity to share your story - what was stressful for you about the NICU? Do you still have lasting stress from the experience? What has helped you?

[Photo credits: New York Times]