The key to neonatal intensive care is relationships – with and within families (USA)

relationships NICU

A new paper in the Journal of Perinatology presents a fresh concept for neonatal intensive care: the Newborn Intensive Parenting Unit. The overall aim is to “optimize the functioning of the family unit”. The authors focus on relationships:

“Broadening the focus of neonatal care to the family–infant relationship requires an emphasis on relationships in the unit, both relationships within the family and partnerships among staff and family. These partnerships are based on the premise that intensive parenting should begin as soon as possible and be interrupted only when absolutely necessary. The physical and emotional well-being of the family unit are the guiding concerns because it is known that ultimately, the well-being of the family affects the well-being of the baby.”

Unusually, the abstract refers to “mothers and fathers” rather than just “parents”, thereby opening up the possibility of understanding and engaging with family relationships and the cultural differences that shape the different reactions of mothers and fathers to parenting under stress.

Rather disappointingly, the article does not go on to discuss any aspects of gender differences in how mothers and fathers typically respond (see recent Danish research by Betty Noegaard on this), nor does it describe how coparenting relationships within families should be supported. The article lists a series of practices that do require an understanding of these issues in order to deliver effectively to both mothers and fathers:

  • Coaching and mentoring
  • Explaining benefits of skin-to-skin contact
  • Screening of needs, including mental health
  • Running parent groups


Hall SL, Hynan MT, Phillips R, Lassen S, Craig JW, Goyer E, Hatfield RF & Cohen H (2017), The neonatal intensive parenting unit: an introduction, Journal of Perinatology 37

Photo: UW Health. Creative Commons.