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19/05-11   -   Press releases

What do parents go through when their child is in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit? AboutKidsHealth reports

AboutKidsHealth, leading online Canadian provider of children’s health information, reports on what life is like for the parents of a child in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

When Shirley Koo’s fragile son, Alain, came into the world at the community hospital of Markham-Stouffville, their lives were immediately thrown upside down. Despite a healthy pregnancy and negative screening test results, Alain was born with Down syndrome complicated by a serious heart abnormality. Within 12 hours, he was transferred to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) in Toronto. Thus began a journey that would change their lives forever.

“We were in an intense state of shock and worry," says Shirley. Upon arriving at the NICU, “We were not prepared for the sight of our newborn baby connected to tubes and equipment almost completely covering his face and body; equipment encircling his little incubator. He was mostly under sedation but when he was alert his eyes implored us, very frightened. That was the most heartbreaking."

Shirley had never set foot in a NICU before. This is the case for 83% of parents who have a baby in the NICU. “Usually they are young parents with little exposure to health care and this is their first experience with serious illness. Birth with serious problems is a huge shock and few parents are prepared," says Jonathan Hellmann, Director of the NICU at SickKids.

When parents arrive at the NICU and see their baby for the first time, they are often in shock; feeling overwhelmed or alienated. Distress, anxiety, or depression are commonly expressed emotions. Guilt and shame are frequently felt by the mothers, in particular, as if they are somehow responsible for their baby being unhealthy.

Parents find life in the NICU feels more at ease if they are able to see, hold, and touch their baby, and if they can be involved directly in their baby’s care. When parents are able to engage with their baby in the NICU, they move from silence to advocacy: more confident, safe, and more connected to their baby.

In addition to being able to interact with their baby, it is essential that parents have clear, open, caring communication and a good relationship with the nurses and other health care professionals. Listening to the fears and expectations of the parents is an integral part of care of the sick newborn.

Even leaving the NICU is inevitably a time of joy mixed with apprehension: many parents worry that their baby may still need all the support that an NICU provides.

With the help of the hospital, parents come to realize that the end of treatment is an important milestone for their baby and family. The goal of treatment has been to try and return their family to a normal life, and now they can begin to do this.

By Denis Daneman and Jonathan Hellmann at SickKids.

For more about this and related issues, please visit the Paediatrician’s Corner on AboutKidsHealth website, or view the original, extended article here:

AboutKidsHealth is the leading Canadian online source for trusted child health information, and has a scope and scale that is unique in the world. Developed by SickKids Learning Institute in collaboration with over 300 paediatric health specialists, the site provides parents, children, and community health care providers with evidence-based information about everyday parenting information, health and complex medical conditions, from curing nature deficit disorder to life in the NICU. AboutKidsHealth adheres to rigorous quality standards for the creation and review of health information.

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