The forgotten mothers of extremely preterm babies: A qualitative study

Cathrine Fowler, Janet Green, Doug Elliott, Lisa Whiting, Julia Petty

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)
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Aims and objectives: To explore the experiences of mothers of extremely prematurebabies during their Neonatal Intensive Care Unit stay and transition home.
Background: Mothers of extremely preterm infants (28 weeks’ gestation or less) experience a continuum of regular and repeated stressful and traumatic events, during the perinatal period, during the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit stay, and during transition home.
Method: An interpretive description method guided this study. Ten mothers of extremely premature infants who had been at home for less than six months were recruited via a Facebook invitation to participate in semi‐structured telephone interviews exploring their experiences in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and the transition home. The data were examined using a six‐phase thematic analysis approach. The COREQ checklist has been used.
Results: Two main themes emerged: (a) things got a bit dire; and (b) feeling a failure as a mother. Participants had a heightened risk of developing a mental disorder from exposure to multiple risk factors prior to and during birth, as well as during the postnatal period in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and their infant's transition to home. Mothers highlighted the minimal support for their mental health from healthcare professionals, despite their regular and repeated experience of traumatic events.
Conclusion: The mothers were at high risk of developing post‐traumatic stress symptoms and/or other mental health issues. Of note, study participants relived the trauma of witnessing their infant in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, demonstrated hypervigilance behaviour and identified lack of relevant support needed when their infant was at home.
Relevance to Clinical Practice: This study highlights the need for nurses to include a focus on the mothers’ psychosocial needs. Supporting maternal mental health both improves maternal well‐being and enables mothers to be emotionally available and responsive to their extremely preterm infant.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2124-2134
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Clinical Nursing
Issue number11-12
Early online date20 Feb 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2019


  • Neonatal care
  • mental health
  • preterm
  • psychosocial adjustment
  • qualitative study
  • women’s health


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