Maternal Mental Health and Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Discharge Readiness in Mothers of Preterm Infants

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To evaluate associations between maternal mental health disorders (MHDs) and discharge readiness for mothers of infants born preterm (<37 weeks). We hypothesized that mothers with a history of MHDs would report decreased perceptions of neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) discharge readiness compared with mothers without a history.

Study design

Mothers of infants born preterm in the NICU >5 days between 2012 and 2015 and participating in a transition home program completed a discharge readiness questionnaire measuring perceptions of staff support, infant well-being (medical stability), maternal well-being (emotional readiness/competency), and maternal comfort (worry about infant). Greater scores are more optimal (range 0-100). Social workers obtained a history of MHDs. Group comparisons and regression analyses were run to predict decreased scores and maternal discharge readiness.


A total of 37% (315/850) of mothers reported a MHD. They were more likely to be white (64% vs 55% P = .05), single (64% vs 45% P ≤ .001), on Medicaid (61% vs 50% P = .002), and less likely to be non-English speaking (10% vs 22%, P ≤ .001). Mothers with MHD perceived less NICU support (92 ± 13 vs 94 ± 12, P = .005), less emotional readiness for discharge (78 ± 17 vs 81 ± 14, P = .04), and lower family cohesion (81 ± 24 vs 86 ± 19, P = .02) compared with mothers without MHD. Regression modeling (OR; CI) indicated that maternal history of MHDs predicted mother's decreased perception of infant well-being (1.56; 1.05-2.33) and her own well-being (1.99; 1.45-2.8) at discharge.


One-third of mothers reported a history of MHDs. This vulnerable group perceive themselves as less ready for discharge home with their infant, indicating an unmet need for provision of enhanced transition services.

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