Mothers are not fathers: differences between parents in the reduction of stress levels after a parental intervention in a NICU

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Abstract

Aims:

The study examined the effects of a parental intervention to reduce parents’ stress levels during the hospitalization of their very preterm infants in a NICU, taking into account possible differences between mothers and fathers.

Methods:

Parents of infants born ≤32 weeks gestational age (GA) were randomly assigned to a standard support group (N = 21) or intervention group (N = 21). The intervention was based both on a joint observation method and infant massage provided by both parents. Parents’ stress was assessed by the Parental Stressor Scale: Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, after the first week of admission and at the infant's discharge.

Results:

At discharge, intervention group parents showed significantly lower levels of stress related to infants’ appearance/behaviour and to parental role alteration (PRA) than those of the standard support group (p = 0.000). Overall, mothers reported more stress compared with fathers (p ≤ 0.05). The intervention was effective in reducing the stress-role alteration in mothers (p < 0.05), but not in fathers.

Conclusions:

Mothers reported more stress compared with fathers, above all for PRA. A parental intervention was effective in reducing stress-role alteration in mothers, but not fathers. Parental interventions should take into account that help for fathers could be different from help for mothers.

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