Giving birth prematurely is stressful at any gestational age, but having a very early preemie baby who will spend months in the NICU can be one of life’s most taxing and traumatic events. Many parents of preemies report symptoms of severe psychological distress and PTSD, and it’s not uncommon for moms and dads of babies in the NICU to suffer from anxiety and depression.
If you’re the mom or dad of a preemie, you know how a preemie parent’s stress levels increase with each new up and down. It can feel like there are no breaks in the cycle – as soon as you start to mentally recover from one catastrophe, there’s another setback or heartbreak. Even if your baby is relatively healthy, the stress of not knowing when your hospital journey will finally be at an end can make you feel ungrounded.
Research has shown that a parent’s stress levels can impact a preemie’s development and behavior years after the family has left the NICU behind. While that fact might initially sound scary – there’s no denying that prematurity is incredibly stressful for moms and dads – there’s also no reason you shouldn’t look at it in a positive way. After all, knowing that your emotional and psychological well-being is an important factor in your preemie’s development not only gives you an incentive to take care of yourself, but also something you can do to care for your preemie when you might otherwise feel powerless.
We’re not saying that you should sweep anxiety and depression under the rug in a bid to stay strong for your preemie. Or that you feeling stress is going to be bad for your preemie. Rather, being there for your baby in the NICU and beyond is about taking steps to work through your feelings and to cope constructively with stress, not trying to deny that prematurity is stressful. Acknowledging the difficult feelings you’re having is the first step toward doing what you can to give your baby the best possible start.
How do you or did you cope with stress in the NICU?