Scoping Review of the Mental Health of Parents of Infants in the NICU

J Obstet Gynecol Neonatal Nurs. 2017 Jul-Aug;46(4):576-587. doi: 10.1016/j.jogn.2017.02.005. Epub 2017 May 12.


Objective: To synthesize and summarize evidence regarding the mental health of parents of infants in the NICU.

Data sources: Thirteen electronic databases were searched in October 2014 using the following terms individually and in combination: postpartum woman, mother, NICU, preterm birth, depression, anxiety, acute stress disorder (ASD), posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and parental stress.

Study selection: We examined the published research regarding the experiences of parents who have infants admitted to the NICU, the mental health problems that parents may develop, the tools that have been used to identify such problems, and factors related to parental mental health.

Data extraction: After the exclusion of articles according to preset criteria, we included 66 articles in the full review.

Data synthesis: Mental health issues are common in parents of infants in the NICU across diverse ethnocultural groups and countries. Parents report feelings of guilt and shame, high levels of stress, mood and anxiety symptoms, and the positive influence of specific coping strategies and social support. The ethnocultural meanings of these experience and thus nursing interventions may differ widely.

Conclusion: Ongoing assessments of the mental health of parents should be part of routine NICU care. Identification of mood and anxiety symptoms and testing innovative interventions to address at-risk or affected parents is imperative to ensure that there are culturally appropriate policies and services in place to respond to the mental health needs of NICU families.

Keywords: NICU; coping; literature review; mental health; neonatal intensive care; nursing; parental stress; parents; preterm birth; psychological stress.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature / psychology*
  • Intensive Care Units, Neonatal
  • Intensive Care, Neonatal / psychology*
  • Male
  • Mental Health / statistics & numerical data*
  • Middle Aged
  • Parent-Child Relations*
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Social Support
  • Young Adult