Parent Distress and the Decision to Have Another Child After an Infant's Death in the NICU

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Abstract

Objective:

To examine associations among parent perceptions of infant symptoms/suffering, parent distress, and decision making about having additional children after an infant's death in the NICU.

Design:

Mixed-methods pilot study incorporating mailed surveys and qualitative interviews.

Setting:

Midwestern Level IV regional referral NICU.

Participants:

Participants were 42 mothers and 27 fathers whose infants died in the NICU.

Methods:

Parents reported on infant symptoms/suffering at end of life and their own grief and posttraumatic stress symptoms. Qualitative interviews explored decision making about having additional children.

Results:

Approximately two thirds of bereaved parents had another child after their infant's death (62% of mothers, 67% of fathers). Mothers who had another child reported fewer infant symptoms at end of life compared with mothers who did not (p = .002, d = 1.28). Although few mothers exceeded clinical levels of prolonged grief (3%) and posttraumatic stress symptoms (18%), mothers who had another child endorsed fewer symptoms of prolonged grief (p = .001, d = 1.63) and posttraumatic stress (p = .009, d = 1.16). Differences between fathers mirrored these effects but were not significant. Parent interviews generated themes related to decision making about having additional children, including Impact of Infant Death, Facilitators and Barriers, Timing and Trajectories of Decisions, and Not Wanting to Replace the Deceased Child.

Conclusion:

Having another child after infant loss may promote resilience or serve as an indicator of positive adjustment among parents bereaved by infant death in the NICU. Prospective research is necessary to distinguish directional associations and guide evidence-based care.

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