The emotional toll

When a baby is born prematurely, the family faces a stressful new world. Often, the parents see the baby only for a moment before he or she is whisked away to the newborn intensive care unit (NICU).

How can having a premature baby affect a family emotionally?

Instead of taking home a healthy newborn, parents spend hours in the hospital, talking to all kinds of specialists. The medical equipment that is helping the baby is frightening. The doctors and nurses use clinical words that parents don't understand. And the busy, hectic atmosphere in the NICU is stressful. Often the mother, feeling lonely and sad, leaves the hospital before the baby does.

Many premature babies face life-threatening complications. Things can change very quickly. One day the baby appears to be doing well; the next, hope seems to be lost. Families with premature babies often refer to the NICU as a roller-coaster experience.

Day-to-day life is completely disrupted. Parents spend hours in the NICU, away from their other children and their jobs. Sometimes the NICU stay can last for months, and often the facility is located miles from home. Families face financial stress as they struggle to pay the high NICU costs.

Facing important decisions about their baby, families find that marriages and relationships are tested as never before. How do we share the time in the NICU? How do we manage the household? How do we find time for our other children and for ourselves? What do we tell others about the new baby? The baby's siblings may feel worried—and left out.

If you have an infant in a NICU, visit Share Your Story, the March of Dimes online community for families who have a premature baby.