COVID-19 Pandemic Policies Pose Unique Challenges for Mothers of Preterm Infants in the NICU, UBC Study Finds

September 5, 2023

A recent study published in Advances in Neonatal Care examined the experiences of mothers of preterm infants admitted to the NICU during the COVID-19 pandemic. The team, based out of the University of British Columbia and the BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute, discovered that policy decisions during this period caused widespread impacts within the family. These include family separation, isolation, and distress – all of which hinder newborns’ development of relationships with other family members. Yet, mothers also identified some positive aspects of implemented policies as they demonstrated resilience during an unprecedented pandemic context. The research team recommended measures to support family presence during a pandemic period, including monitoring mothers’ psychological well-being while their infant is in the NICU, monitoring mothers’ psychological well-being while their infant is there, and introducing mothers to peer support groups while their infant is there.

Led by Dr. Manon Ranger, a pediatric clinical nurse specialist and Investigator at the BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute and the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health, this study importantly contributes to the clinical community’s understanding of "how neonatal clinicians can foster individual and organizational resilience to keep patients and families at the center of care, even when the healthcare system is under intense stress" (Ranger).

The COVID-19 pandemic presented families with preterm infants in NICUs with unique challenges. This study highlights how lessons learned from the pandemic can be used to support the mental health and well-being of mothers with their preterm babies in NICUs. There is an opportunity to use these lessons and other lessons from the pandemic to improve the quality of care and build resilience in health systems – not just for those who are being treated for COVID-19, or other severe infectious illnesses, but also for all individuals seeking care from stressed health systems. As such, the findings from this research can provide valuable information for creating pandemic and sepsis management plans that reflect patients’ and families’ needs, helping to enhance practice, culture and delivery of care.

Going forward, further research about long-term consequences of pandemic policies on the mother and preterm infant after NICU discharge is warranted. These studies need to be inclusive of fathers/birthing persons and other partners who support the care of critically ill infants in the NICU, as well as other acute care settings and populations of critically ill patients.

- Dr. Manon Ranger

Dr. Ranger is an Assistant Professor at the School of Nursing at the University of British Columbia. She primarily uses pre-clinical animal models to better understand the impact of early-life adversity on brain development, particularly in the context of preterm infants in the NICU. She aims to better inform clinical studies in preterm infants and, consequently, the development of improved treatments to maximize their health outcomes. Dr. Ranger recently became a member of the Action on Sepsis Research Cluster, where she applies her research interests to the contexts of infantile and maternal sepsis, and serves on our Steering Committee.

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First Nations land acknowledegement

Action on Sepsis operates on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the Coast Salish peoples — xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. We invite everyone to reflect on the traditional territories and land that they currently work and live on.

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