Effectiveness of Current Interventions to Alleviate Parental Distress in the NICU: A Rapid Review


  • Darylle Sophia Shudra, NP, MN
  • Elizabeth Papathanassoglou, PhD, RN, MSc
  • Amber Reichert, MD


Background: The birth of a premature infant and admission to the NICU is often unexpected and traumatic for families, leading to increased distress and can negatively impact parental-infant attachment. Appropriate interventions can help to lessen the negative impact of a NICU admission on families, improving parental mental health, reducing distress, enhancing parent- infant relationships, and improving the long-term physical, cognitive, emotional, and social development of the infant.
Aims: The purpose of this study is to examine and evaluate research evidence on the effectiveness of current interventions for improving parental distress in the NICU. Methods: A rapid review was conducted utilizing a protocol based on the Virginia Commonwealth University guidance. Keyword searches were conducted on CINAHL, MEDLINE, and PsychINFO, and studies were selected according to pre-defined eligibility criteria, published between January 2015 and January 2020. The literature search included primary studies of interventions with parental stress and/or anxiety reduction as outcomes.
Results: A total of 14 articles were included, evaluating the effectiveness of 13 different interventions, including narrative writing, art therapy, structured nursing interventions, anxiety counselling, spiritual care, organizational change, music therapy, relaxation, and mindfulness techniques. With the Pexception of three, all the studies found significant results in the reduction of stress and/or anxiety levels of the subjects, with mothers having overall higher levels of stress indicated by higher stress scores on standardized measurement tools.
Conclusion: There is a need for ongoing assessment of parental distress and integration of appropriate interventions within the NICU settings. In this review, both individualized and group interventions including narrative writing, art therapy, music therapy, spiritual care, activity-based group therapy, music therapy, audio-assisted relaxation techniques, mindfulness based neurodevelopmental care, cognitive behavioral based counselling, family nurture intervention and a structured nursing intervention were shown to be effective in reducing parental stress and/or anxiety in the NICU. The small scale of the studies included in this review impact generalizability to a broader audience and emphasizes the need for larger scope, multi-center studies at an international level to build on and broaden our level of knowledge on how to better support families and reduce parental distress in the NICU.

Author Biographies

Darylle Sophia Shudra, NP, MN

Darylle Sophia Shudra, NP, MN, is a neonatal nurse practitioner at Alberta Health Services, Stollery Children’s Hospital, Canada.

Elizabeth Papathanassoglou, PhD, RN, MSc

Elizabeth Papathanassoglou, PhD, RN, MSc, is a nursing professor at the University of Alberta, and is the Scientific Director for Neurosciences, Rehabilitation & Vision Strategic Clinical Network, Alberta Health Services. She is also the co-editor of the International Journal of Critical Care, The Official Journal of the World Federation of Critical Care Nurses.

Amber Reichert, MD

Amber Reichert, MD, is the Medical Director for the Neonatal Follow-up Clinic and Associate Clinical Professor in the Department of Pediatrics, Stollery Children’s Hospital, Canada.




How to Cite

Sophia Shudra, D., Papathanassoglou, E. ., & Reichert, A. (2022). Effectiveness of Current Interventions to Alleviate Parental Distress in the NICU: A Rapid Review. International Journal of Critical Care, 16(1), 1–41. Retrieved from https://wfccn-ijcc.com/index.php/ijcc/article/view/14

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