The birth of a preterm infant and witnessing ones’ infant in pain is remembered by parents as being one of the most stressful aspects of the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Elevated posttraumatic stress symptoms (PTSS) are highly prevalent among mothers of preterm infants, however, little is known about mothers’ memories of invasive procedures in the NICU and how these memories may contribute to the development of PTSS. We examined the relationships between number of invasive procedures, mothers’ memories of these procedures, and their PTSS at discharge from the NICU.
Materials and Methods:
Participants included 36 mothers of infants born below 37 weeks gestational age recruited from a tertiary-level NICU. Medical chart review was performed between birth and discharge from the NICU. At discharge, a research nurse conducted a structured memory interview with the mothers to assess their memories of their infants’ invasive procedures. Mothers also completed a self-report measure of PTSS (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Checklist for the DSM-5).
Mothers of infants exposed to greater numbers of invasive procedures had more elevated PTSS at discharge (R2=0.37). Moreover, mothers who recalled having greater anxiety about their infant’s invasive procedures had greater symptoms of reexperiencing (R2=0.34) and avoidance (R2=0.28) at discharge from the NICU.
Greater neonatal exposure to invasive procedures and mothers’ recall of these procedures were related to mothers’ posttraumatic stress symptomatology at discharge. Invasive procedures in the NICU represent an important target area for neonatal intervention to reduce maternal distress and improve outcomes.