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NICU Moms with Mental Health Issues May Be Less Ready to Leave

NICU Moms with Mental Health Issues May Be Less Ready to Leave

New mothers with a history of mental health disorders whose babies are in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) tend to feel less ready for discharge from the hospital compared to NICU mothers without a mental health history, according to a new study published in the Journal of Pediatrics.

A mother’s discharge readiness was defined by her overall sense of emotional well-being after the delivery, including whether she perceived herself as ready, comfortable, and confident in caring for her newborn preemie.

Each year, more than 450,000 babies are born prematurely in the United States alone. Due to a variety of health problems, many of these infants spend days, weeks, or even months in the NICU. The mothers of these babies are at increased risk for a variety of mental health disorders including depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress, which could impact their transition home to care for their infant.

“Our primary objective was to evaluate the association between maternal mental health disorders and discharge readiness,” said study leader Elisabeth C. McGowan, M.D., a neonatologist at Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island, a Care New England hospital, and assistant professor of pediatrics at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.

“We defined discharge readiness as parental emotional comfort and confidence with infant care, in addition to attainment of skills and knowledge, with parent mental well-being critical to parenting readiness.”

For the study, 934 mothers whose infants were born prematurely (earlier than 37 weeks gestation) between 2012 and 2015 and who were participating in a transition home program completed a discharge readiness questionnaire.

The questionnaire measured perceptions of staff support, infant well-being (medical stability), maternal well-being (emotional readiness/competency), and maternal comfort (worry about her infant). Social workers obtained a history of mental health disorders.

“We hypothesized that mothers with a history of mental health disorders would report decreased perceptions of NICU discharge readiness compared with mothers without a history,” said McGowan.

“We concluded that the one-third who reported a history of mental health disorder indeed had decreased perception of their infant well-being in addition to their own well-being during the critical time of NICU discharge. This indicates that there is an unmet need for provision of enhanced transition home services for the mother-infant dyad.”

The research team also included Women & Infants/Brown University colleagues Katheleen Hawes, Ph.D., R.N.; Richard Tucker, B.A.; Melissa O’Donnell, M.S.W.; and Betty Vohr, M.D.; as well as Nan Du, B.S., M.D., from Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital.

Source: Care New England

NICU Moms with Mental Health Issues May Be Less Ready to Leave

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2018). NICU Moms with Mental Health Issues May Be Less Ready to Leave. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 28, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 29 Mar 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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