June 2021 – After the NICU

Jenny R. McCormick, Senior Editor PreemieWorld

While parents often look forward to their preemie being discharged, often the stress will follow them home because of continued health problems and future unknowns.  Add trauma from the NICU and it is common for parents of preemies to find themselves feeling emotional distress, with PTSD symptoms and more.  Here are some signs and tips to help you through this:

Some common Symptoms of PTSD:  

  • Recurrent, unwanted distressing memories of the traumatic event
  • Nightmares
  • Flashbacks or reliving the traumatic event
  • Intense distress or physical reactions to memory triggers
  • Negative changes in mood and thinking
  • Changes in emotional reactions

Be aware of triggers:  Some triggers may include follow-up appointments, fear of the baby becoming sick, alarm sounds, fear of leaving the house with the baby and feelings of isolation and loneliness. 

Know your support system:  This may include making an appointment with your physician, seeking support from a specialist/therapist and finding a support group. https://www.inspire.com/groups/preemie/

The helpfulness of therapy: Therapy is an effective way to help treat PTSD.  There are many online resources/support for parents coping with PTSD.  One such resource is: NICU Healing, an Online Therapeutic Resource for Parents Coping with the NICU Experience. http://www.nicuhealing.com/

Practice mindful meditation:  Mindful meditation is something that you can practice on your own, use from an app, or learn from an experienced therapist. The practice of mindful meditation helps you to become more aware of your feelings. It also teaches you how to control your emotions and your thoughts. You can learn how to purposefully think about things that will help you to calm both your physical and emotional responses.

Make exercise a part of your routine:  Physical activity is good for both your mental and physical health. If you deal with anger, sadness and stress, exercise can help you to find a positive way to release some of your pent up emotions. Physical activity also helps you to release energy and can give you something positive to focus your attention on. 

Self-monitoring:  We are all creatures of habit. We often go about our day without thinking, being unaware of much that goes on around us. We cannot really address uncomfortable symptoms without first being aware of what situations bring up these feelings. Self-monitoring is a simple way of increasing this awareness.

Expressive Writing:  Using journaling to cope with and express your thoughts and feelings can be a good way of coping with emotional distress. In PTSD in particular, expressive writing has been found to have a number of benefits, including improved coping, and reduced PTSD symptoms, tension, and anger.