Caring for parents and families in the NICU

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Learn about the immediate experience of neonatal intensive care, which is a very emotional, physical and practical challenge for parents and families.

Key points

  • The wellbeing of a baby is the primary focus in the NICU, however health-care professionals can still offer help for parents and families.
  • Staff in the NICU can provide support to parents and families as well as information about government and non-government services.
  • Parents are encouraged to ask for help from hospital, family, friends and any other support groups they may have.

Having a baby in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) is probably one of the most stressful events any family, and any relationship, can go through. Although babies who spend time in the NICU go on to thrive as normal healthy children, the immediate experience of neonatal intensive care is a very emotional, physical and practical challenge for all involved.

Get help

Though the primary focus of the NICU is on the wellbeing of thebaby, staff at the NICU are aware that having a child in intensive care affects parents and families. Staff are also aware that lowering levels of distress for parents is likely to have a positive effect on the baby. For this reason, all NICUs will have mechanisms in place to help families get through the ups and downs. We believe that all parents and families need support. If you are not immediately offered help, don’t hesitate to ask for it.

Additionally, depending on where you live, there may be government and non-governmental services, both financial and practical in nature, that exist for exactly these types of unexpected family challenges. The staff at the NICU should be aware of these services and where and how to access them. Again, if you are not immediately offered support in this regard, ask.

Most families coping with a baby in the NICU have had no time to prepare. Rather than bringing a healthy full-term baby home, which is itself stressful, these parents find themselves in a complex environment full of anxieties and questions. At the same time, other responsibilities have not gone away. Additionally, the mother of the child has just given birth and, depending on the circumstances, may need a few days longer than would normally be expected to recover, often in another hospital. All practical aspects of this event could not have been anticipated. Forgive yourself for not being prepared. Start asking about resources available at the hospital, from the government or in the community, and which friends and family can help, and in what ways.

Last updated: October 31st 2009