PTSD Concern for Parents of Premature Babies

by Ann Douglas

daddy holding preemieMental health issues may continue to be a concern for parents of premature babies long after their babies have been discharged from hospital. According to Richard Shaw, MD, a child psychiatrist and an associate professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is relatively common among parents whose newborns spent time in the NICU.

According to Shaw, there's no link between the severity of the trauma and the extent of the symptoms experienced by the parent. "Some individuals seem to be quite resilient and less likely to develop symptoms of PTSD. Others, especially those with prior history of trauma exposure, or those with poor coping abilities, are more vulnerable."

Shaw found that mothers and fathers followed different patterns in dealing with the trauma: "We were surprised to find that fathers had a delayed reaction in terms of their trauma response. By four months, maternal trauma symptoms had diminished, but fathers' symptoms had increased, and in fact exceeded those of the mothers. It appeared that fathers tend to keep their emotional reactions in check for the first few months, perhaps to allow full support to be given to the mothers. However, by four months, when the mothers are recovering, the fathers go through a very difficult period. Awareness of this phenomenon is essential to ensure that the fathers' needs are not overlooked or neglected."

Both parents need to be informed about the types of symptoms they might experience and to be offered appropriate supports, including access to parent-to-parent support groups: "They benefit greatly from advice from other parents who have gone through similar NICU experiences."

Did you parent a preemie? Please share what helped you most in the comments!

Ann Douglas is the author of numerous books about pregnancy and parenting including the bestselling "The Mother of All Pregnancy Books." She regularly contributes to a number of print and online publications, is frequently quoted in the media on a range of parenting-related topics, and has appeared as a guest on a number of television and radio shows. Ann and her husband Neil live in Peterborough, Ontario. with the youngest of their four children. Learn more at her site, having-a-baby.com.

Copyright © Ann Douglas. Permission to publish granted to Pregnancy.org.