Roles and Experiences of Parents in Necrotizing Enterocolitis: An International Survey of Parental Perspectives of Communication in the NICU

Adv Neonatal Care. 2017 Dec;17(6):489-498. doi: 10.1097/ANC.0000000000000438.


Background: Although partnering with parents is important to improving neonatal outcomes, no studies have investigated what parents are taught, remember, or experience when their child is afflicted with necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC).

Purpose: To characterize parental perceptions of communication and support they were given about NEC.

Methods: An online survey was developed, reviewed for face validity, and then administered to parents whose child had experienced NEC. Quantitative data were analyzed using descriptive statistics, and qualitative data were analyzed using a qualitative descriptive approach.

Findings: Parents (N = 110) wanted to know the risk factors and warning signs for NEC and wanted to be told as soon as their child was admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Information provided before diagnosis was felt to be poor by the majority of families, with only 32% feeling satisfied or very satisfied. No parent wrote that they were "scared" by information provided to them about NEC; in fact, parents were dissatisfied when they received "sugar-coated" information. Engaged parents were significantly more satisfied than those who were not informed, had their concerns and suggestions dismissed, or who had to advocate for their baby against clinician opposition (eg, activating the chain of command).

Implications for practice: Areas for quality improvement include better communication and collaboration with parents through early engagement in NEC prevention using modalities beyond verbal instruction.

Implications for research: More research is needed on how best to engage parents, especially to engage in prevention, and how doing so affects satisfaction and outcomes.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude to Health
  • Enterocolitis, Necrotizing / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Newborn, Diseases / psychology
  • Infant, Premature*
  • Intensive Care Units, Neonatal
  • Male
  • Parent-Child Relations*
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Professional-Family Relations*