The parent–nurse relationship in the neonatal intensive care unit context – closeness and emotional involvement


  • Liv Fegran RN (Doctoral Student and Assistant Professor),

    1. Faculty of Health and Sports, University of Agder, Kristiansand; Institute of Nursing and Health Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, University of Oslo, Norway
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Sølvi Helseth RN, PhD (Professor)

    1. Faculty of Nursing, Oslo University College, Oslo, Norway
    Search for more papers by this author

Liv Fegran, Faculty of Health and Sports, University of Agder, Servicebox 422, N-4604, Kristiansand, Norway


Aim and background:  Family-centred care, which acknowledges parents as partners in care, is a desirable and essential part of neonatal nursing. There has been extensive research on parents’ experiences of parenting in neonatal intensive care units (NICU), but there is little research on nurses’ experiences of being in these enduring close relationships. The aim of this paper is to explore parents’ and nurses’ experiences of the close parent–nurse relationship when a premature child is hospitalized.

Method:  The design was exploratory with a hermeneutic approach. The methods used were participant observation and in-depth interviews with six mothers, six fathers and six nurses in a Norwegian 13-bed NICU. Eighteen individual interviews and 160 hours of observations were conducted over 27 weeks from 2003 to 2004. This study complies with the principles of the Declaration of Helsinki. The Regional Committee for Medical Research Ethics, the Ombudsman for Privacy in Research at the Norwegian Social Science Data Services and the hospital’s research department approved the study protocol.

Results:  The NICU context is a technological environment where human interaction is a crucial issue. The character of the context and the ongoing interactions drive parents and nurses into close relationships. Closeness increases the emotional involvement and the boundary between the professional and the personal approach is threatened. The commitment of being close, combined with the emotional involvement, can be an emotional burden to both parents and nurses.

Conclusion:  Parent–nurse closeness in NICU is desirable; however, the emotional burden of this closeness seems to be seldom problematized. Awareness about the need to strike a balance between closeness and distance can positively influence parents’ independence and nurses’ ability to maintain professional relationships with their primary care parents.