OBJECTIVE. This study investigated the stress experienced by parents in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), the infant and parent characteristics that resulted in different stress responses, and the characteristics that were predictive of stress.

METHOD. The Parental Stress Scale: Neonatal Intensive Care Unit was used to measure the stress of 162 parents. A Parent/Infant Demographic sheet provided information for determining which characteristics resulted in different responses and which variables were stress predictors.

RESULTS. The highest levels of stress experienced were in the relationship with baby–parental role area, and regarding how the baby looked and behaved. The infant characteristic of gestational age resulted in significantly different scores concerning the baby’s appearance and behavior. Consistent predictors of stress were length of stay, extreme prematurity, and a cardiovascular diagnosis.

CONCLUSION. Identifying the stressors parents experience can assist NICU therapists in intervention planning. Family-centered care that addresses stressors concerning their roles and their understanding of their infant should be emphasized.

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