Helping Parents Overcome the Trauma of the NICU Experience

Thanks to my association with the Postpartum Health Alliance, I recently attended a lecture by Dr. Krishelle Marc-Aurele, of UC San Diego/Rady Children’s Neonatology Division, on “Coping with the NICU experience.” Dr. Marc-Aurele is board certified in pediatrics, internal medicine, neonatalogy, and palliative medicine. She has been a Medical Director at San Diego Hospice and neonatal attending at UCSD. She is also a lovely human being who conveys a genuine caring for her patients, a deep understanding of very difficult times, and a sincere desire for families to overcome the trauma of the NICU experience.

overcome the trauma of the nicu experience

Her talk covered birth stress and birth trauma for parents who have had experiences in the neonatal intensive care unit. I was surprised to learn how prevalent birth trauma can be, which she states affects up to 20-30% to parents. 14% of all babies will spend time in the NICU. Post traumatic stress from birth trauma can be diagnosed in at least 2% of all births, and postpartum depression has a prevalence of 15% (or 1 in 7.)

No parents wants to see their child suffer. NICU parents often feel despair, frustration, guilt, loss of control, alienation… Fathers often struggle with the loss of control and mothers often have guilt over the irrational belief that it is their fault. Even when the baby survives, the anticipated bonding–cuddling, holding and nursing a baby–is completely disrupted.

Dr. Marc-Aurele tells parents, “This is not your fault.” She encourages partners to reiterate, “This is not your fault.”

Postpartum depression and post traumatic stress unfortunately creates further disadvantages for infants. Fortunately, psychotherapy is often helpful. Specifically, Dr. Marc-Aurele sees NICU parents improve with psychoeducation, cognitive behavioral therapy, muscle relaxation and narrative approaches.

Want to know more about how to overcome the trauma of the NICU experience?

About the Author:

Abigail Burd, LCSW is a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist practicing in San Diego. (CA lic #LCS26867.) Specialties include maternal mental health, parenting, addiction, depression/anxiety and personal growth. Abby is experienced providing counseling to others in the helping fields, college students, and graduate students.

2 Comments

  1. […] If you missed hearing about the previous PHA lecture, on helping parents overcome the trauma of the NICU experience, you can read about it here. […]

  2. […] Recently I attended a lecture sponsored by the Postpartum Health Alliance on “Cultural Considerations when Working with Expecting and New Parents.” The lecturer happened to be an old friend of mine, Dr. Mariela Shibley, Psy.D. She shared with a group of maternal mental health practitioners, First Five home visitors, and other professionals interested in helping pregnant and postpartum women. As I focus on helping women of childbearing years in my psychotherapy private practice in San Diego, I always look forward to learning more and connecting with other practitioners at the PHA lectures. You can see more posts inspired by the PHA lectures here: Postpartum Couples and the NICU Experience. […]

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