"All these people saved her life, but she needs me too": Understanding and responding to parental mental health in the NICU

J Perinatol. 2022 Nov;42(11):1496-1503. doi: 10.1038/s41372-022-01426-1. Epub 2022 Jun 15.


Objective: To explore the mental health needs of parents of infants in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), as well as barriers and solutions to meeting these needs.

Design: Qualitative interviews conducted with parents and staff (n = 15) from a level IV NICU in the Northwestern United States. Thematic analysis completed using an inductive approach, at a semantic level.

Results: (1) Information and mental health needs change over time, (2) Staff-parent relationships buffer trauma and distress, (3) Lack of continuity of care impacts response to mental health concerns, (4) NICU has a critical role in addressing parental mental health.

Conclusion: Mental health support should be embedded and tailored to the NICU trajectory, with special attention to the discharge transition, parents living in rural areas, and non-English-speaking parents. Research should address structural factors that may impact mental health such as integration of wholistic services, language barriers, and staff capacity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Intensive Care Units, Neonatal*
  • Mental Health*
  • Northwestern United States
  • Parents / psychology
  • Patient Discharge