NICU parents experience more stress during pandemic

Loving father looking at his premature newborn in an incubator at the hospital while wearing a facemask during the COVID-19 pandemic

Recent faculty addition Dr. Kathryn Malin is “driven by a deep desire to serve families with premature or sick infants hospitalized in the neonatal intensive care unit,” and her research is proof of her passion. 

Recently, Malin was part of a team of nurse scientists who saw a need to understand how parents with infants in the NICU during COVID-19 were affected by the pandemic and how their experiences might have differed from the already-known challenges associated with NICU hospitalization. Initially, the pandemic forced hospitals to limit parental visits to mitigate some risk of disease transmission. Yet, the researchers found, there was very little evidence on how to best decrease the spread of COVID-19 while also providing best care practices, including patient and family-centered care. 

Dr. Kathryn Malin

The researchers conducted a survey of parents to assess family life and routines, financial instability, parent confidence, parent mental health and satisfaction with neonatal care. They also conducted a qualitative analysis of open-ended questions about parenting in the NICU during the pandemic’s first six months. Parents reported significant impacts on family life as well as more financial instability during their infant’s hospitalization amid COVID-19. “Importantly, the negative family and financial impacts of hospitalization were noticeably worse than what had been reported in similar populations prior to the pandemic,” says Malin, assistant professor. 

The results of Malin’s research led to the development of a consensus statement on essential NICU care during the pandemic, which has been endorsed by the National Association of Neonatal Nurses, National Perinatal Association, and Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses. The statement is available online, so it can be shared in neonatal and pediatric care units. 

“We also believe providers should shift some focus to the family well-being and offer targeted emotional support when families may face additional challenges during their infants’ hospitalization,” Malin says. “We must value families as essential members of the care team in the hospital.”  

—Sarah Koziol, Arts ’92