Study shows nurses are the main support for parents of premature infants

SAN ANTONIO (March 6, 2009) — When an infant is admitted into a hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), parents often experience challenges with establishing their roles as parents because their newborn infants — out of necessity — spend more time in the care of medical professionals than with their families.

A recent article by a nursing faculty member at the UT Health Science Center San Antonio concludes that nurses are well positioned to assist families during this difficult time because they are at the forefront of patient and family care. “Parenting in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit,” by Lisa M. Cleveland, RN, M.N., a clinical instructor in the School of Nursing’s Department of Family Nursing Care, takes an in-depth look at 60 studies that focus on parents who have infants in the NICU, with the goal of uncovering the specific needs of these parents and what nurses can do to positively support them to establish their role as parents.

The article appeared in the November/December edition of the Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic and Neonatal Nursing, published by the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses.

“As a neonatal nurse, I have always suspected that nurses can greatly impact parenting outcomes in the NICU. The findings of this review provide evidence to support my clinical observations. In the future, I plan to study the needs of parents of Mexican descent in the NICU. This is a population of families in South Texas for which nurses often provide care, yet little is known about their cultural needs in the NICU.”

According to the article, parents with an infant in the NICU have six major needs:
• to receive accurate information and be included in their infants’ care
• to be able to watch over and protect their infants
• to have contact with their infants
• to be perceived positively by the nursery staff
• to receive specialized attention, especially fathers
• to establish a therapeutic relationship with the nursing staff
To assist parents with these needs, the article determines that nurses can provide support in the following ways:
• by providing emotional support to parents
• by empowering parents
• by providing a welcoming environment
• by giving parents the opportunity to practice new parenting skills with their infants in the NICU with assistance from the nursing staff
“With the birth of premature infants on the rise in the United States, this article highlights the important role nurses can play during this time in the families’ lives,” says Karen Peddicord, RNC, PhD, executive director of the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses.

The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio is the leading research institution in South Texas and one of the major health sciences universities in the world. With an operating budget of $668 million, the Health Science Center is the chief catalyst for the $15.3 billion biosciences and health care sector in San Antonio’s economy. The Health Science Center has had an estimated $35 billion impact on the region since inception and has expanded to six campuses in San Antonio, Laredo, Harlingen and Edinburg. More than 23,000 graduates (physicians, dentists, nurses, scientists and other health professionals) serve in their fields, including many in Texas. Health Science Center faculty are international leaders in cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, aging, stroke prevention, kidney disease, orthopaedics, research imaging, transplant surgery, psychiatry and clinical neurosciences, pain management, genetics, nursing, dentistry and many other fields. For more information, visit

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