August 26, 2009

Post-Traumatic NICU Experience Stress Disorder

Studies at Stanford and Duke of parents whose kids spent time in the NICU found that they often exhibited signs of post-traumatic stress disorder--including nightmares, flashbacks, and panic attacks triggered by beeping alarms--long after the kids came home:

[A]lthough none of the fathers experienced acute stress symptoms while their child was in the NICU, they actually had higher rates of post-traumatic stress than the mothers when they were followed up later. "At four months, 33 percent of fathers and 9 percent of mothers had P.T.S.D.," Dr. Shaw said.

It may be that cultural roles compel the men to keep a brave front during the trauma to support their partners, Dr. Shaw said, adding, "But three months later, when the mothers have recovered, that's when the fathers are allowed to fall apart."

For Parents on NICU, Trauma May Last [nyt]
Abstract: The Relationship Between Acute Stress Disorder and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit [psychiatryonline.org]
Posttraumatic stress symptoms in mothers of premature infants.[nih.gov]

6 Comments

Before my son was born, I went to a Daddy Boot Camp class at the hospital. They had a Level 3 NICU there and one of the dad's in the class was dealing with 6 month born preemie twins. That's a rough gig I don't wish on anyone. I think there needs to be a support group that should be stressfully suggested for all dads in that situation to participate in afterwards. Even something online.

My husband & I spent three days in February in the PICU & another eight days in April, and I have to believe that the NICU is way, way worse. It's no surprise to me that parents suffer PTSD. I can especially imagine the problems with the beeping alarms.

Reposting Caitlin's followup comment here:

I realize that what I said may sound callous if you were in the PICU for something more serious than what we dealt with, which was the onset of epilepsy, or what they now call "seizure disorder," and pneumonia. I'm sure for some people, the PICU could be every bit as hellish as the NICU.

I was diagnosed w/ PTSD after our twin sons spent less than 2 days in the NICU, but it could have something to do with them dying too.

After 5 miscarriages my wife and I had a beautiful Baby Boy at 27 weeks 6 days. His birth weight was 770g (1 lb. 11 oz.) We spent the first 153 days of his life in the NICU. After 16 wonderful days at home together we were admitted to the PICU for 108 days. Liam just came home on Oct 1st but after 4 weeks we were back in the PICU until this afternoon. We're all home and happy now. I was diagnosed with PTSD just before Liam came home the second time. I still struggle with many of the symptoms as I make my way through learning a new routine at home. I agree that this issue needs to be addressed with dads very early in the NICU process to help dads learn coping skills for the trauma of a long term hospital stay. For a long time I thought that being so anxious and nervous about things was because I couldn't handle it any more but I have learned that it is a byproduct of the bodies reaction to intense and prolonged stress. Had I known it was possible I would have tried to find strategies for coping with that stress much earlier.

Eric, if you are reading this, I wonder if you can contact my partner, quikwood@gmail.com, we went recently, through a very similar experience and he is now experiencing PTSD... thank you...

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