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Keywords:

  • Mothers;
  • Posttraumatic stress symptoms;
  • Premature infants;
  • PTSD

Objective: To examine mothers’ responses to having a premature infant in the neonatal intensive-care unit and to determine the degree to which they appear similar to a posttraumatic stress response.

Design: Mothers were enrolled in this descriptive, correlational study shortly before the infant was discharged from the hospital. Data were collected at enrollment and when the infant was 6 months old, corrected for prematurity.

Participants: A convenience sample of 30 mothers of high-risk premature infants.

Interventions: None.

Main Outcome Measures: A semistructured interview of the mothers was conducted at 6 months corrected age. Interview responses were analyzed to identify three symptoms related to posttraumatic stress disorder: re-experiencing, avoidance, and increased arousal. Other measures focused on maternal psychological well-being—neonatal intensive-care unit stress, depressive symptoms, and worry about the infant—and demographic characteristics. Infant illness severity included birth weight, length of mechanical ventilation, multiple birth, and the severity of neurological insults.

Results: All mothers interviewed had at least one posttraumatic symptom, 12 had two, and 16 had three symptoms. Twenty-six mothers reported increased arousal; re-experiencing and avoidance were reported by 24 mothers each. The number, but not the type, of posttraumatic stress symptoms was related to maternal psychological well-being. Maternal demographic characteristics, except marital status, and infant illness severity, were unrelated to posttraumatic stress symptoms.

Conclusions: These mothers appeared to be experiencing emotional responses similar to posttraumatic stress reactions at 6 months after their child's expected birth date. Since maternal emotional responses may affect the parenting of premature infants, additional nursing research is needed to provide a basis for interventions with these highly vulnerable mothers and infants.