Coping with the neonatal intensive care unit experience: Parents' strategies and views of staff support

Vincent C. Smith*, Gillian K. Steelfisher, Carmel Salhi, Lisa Y. Shen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

74 Scopus citations


It is stressful for parents to have an infant in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). To better understand the parents' experience and the role of staff, we examined parental reports of their NICU experiences, coping strategies, and views of the ways NICU staff supported them. Between June and July 2007, we interviewed 29 current and graduate parents from the study institution's NICU. A trained researcher conducted all interviews, which were recorded and transcribed. This was a qualitative analysis of prospectively collected interview data. Parents used the following coping strategies: (1) participating in care of the child; (2) getting away from the NICU; (3) gathering information; (4) involvement of friends and family; and (5) engagement with other NICU parents. Staff can support the parents' coping strategies in the following ways: (1) facilitating participation of the parents with the infant's care; (2) emphasizing documentation of the infant's progress; (3) demonstrating affection for the infant; (4) addressing concerns that make parents hesitant to leave the NICU; (5) providing accurate, consistent clinical information; (6) limiting unscheduled nonemergency phone calls; and (7) arranging voluntarily activities or programs in which parents whose infants have similar medical conditions may interact.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)343-352
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Perinatal and Neonatal Nursing
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1 2012


  • infant
  • intensive care units
  • neonatal
  • parenting
  • premature
  • qualitative research
  • stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics
  • Critical Care
  • Maternity and Midwifery


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