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Comparison of Psychosocial Adjustment of Mothers and Fathers of High-Risk Infants in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit

Abstract

OBJECTIVE:

To compare the psychosocial adjustment of mothers and fathers to the birth of a premature or critically ill infant hospitalized in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

STUDY DESIGN:

Using a comparative design, we studied 165 mother and father pairs of high-risk neonates. Mothers were 29.1 ± 6.7 and fathers were 30.7 ± 6.8 years old. All infants were hospitalized in the NICU. Couples completed questionnaires in either English or Spanish during the infant’s NICU stay.

RESULTS:

Mothers were more poorly adjusted and were more anxious, hostile, and depressed than fathers, but both parents experienced levels of emotional distress significantly above normative values. Mothers and fathers reported equal levels of family functioning and social support and shared similar feelings of control related to the health status of their infant.

CONCLUSION: The birth of an infant who requires care in the NICU environment is highly stressful for both parents. Physicians, nurses, and other health professionals working in the NICU should assess the psychosocial adjustment in both parents, but mothers may require more intense education and counseling to reduce the distress they experience.

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This research was supported by the National Institute of NursingResearch (R01 NR02434).

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Doering, L., Dracup, K. & Moser, D. Comparison of Psychosocial Adjustment of Mothers and Fathers of High-Risk Infants in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. J Perinatol 19, 132–137 (1999). https://doi.org/10.1038/sj.jp.7200083

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