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The Ongoing Trauma of Prematurity

Stefan Johansson

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This article in NY Times came on my radar, written by a parent whom is also an obstetrician.

Very well written piece and I would really recommend it. Sparkles a lot of thoughts on what we do, what we achieve, and the parental perspective.



The NICU is like a war zone, except the battle takes place in your baby’s body. You can do some things that are truly helpful, like holding your infant against your bare skin (kangaroo care) — although there were so many tubes and wires, it felt as if I was holding a bundle of electronics. You can also pump breast milk...

But mostly you just have to bear witness.


Find the article here: https://parenting.nytimes.com/newborn/prematurity-baby-burden

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Oh well, so many thoughts after reading this article! Thanks for sharing!

Although I agree with every word she says, I think that we should keep in mind that she describes the American reality, which in many ways may be different from European experiences. In many (most?) countries in Europe, we are privileged to have a generous parental leave and (rather) well-coordinated healthcare system. It doesn't change the fact that becoming a parent in the context of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit must be extremely challenging- and we need to recognize the need to support NICU parents not only during hospitalization but also after the discharge.

What really makes me grind my teeth is the fragment about guilt related to insufficient pumping. There is a beautiful (truly) article written by my colleague Sarah Holdren, in which she argues that many NICU mums feel that pumping is actually the only way they can contribute to their infant wellbeing because other ways to engage parents and promote closeness may not be available. I wholeheartedly recommend you reading that comparison of practices in Finland and the USA, the whole article is available here in Open Access. https://bmcpregnancychildbirth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12884-019-2505-2

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  • 1 year later...

This trauma is definitely not just related to prematurity. In fact, HIE family trauma is exacerbated due to the narrative surrounding NICU as only a preemie place, combined with many times a lack of connection to HIE-specific resources, or even naming the diagnosis. 

We've recently launched more resources for NICU clinicians to help explain and connect parents. We know that when parents are empowered, their babies have better outcomes. 

Our HIE NICU experience handout is available in six languages, with six more in the works. We've relaunched our website and will be continually filling with additional educational materials vetted by our multidisciplinary Medical Advisory Board. 

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