OBJECTIVES: The Parental Stressor Scale: Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (PSS:NICU) is a well-validated tool to assess different sources of stress in parents during the NICU hospitalization of their infant. The present meta-analytic study assessed the relative impact of different NICU-related sources of parental stress in a pool of studies conducted in a wide set of different countries. Also, differences in stress levels by parent gender and country, as well as the impact of infants' neonatal characteristics and clinical conditions were explored.
METHODS: Records were searched on PubMed, Scopus, and Web of Science (January 1993-December 2019). A purposive open search string was adopted: ["PSS:NICU"] OR ["PSS-NICU"] OR ["Parental Stressor Scale"]. A multiple random-effect meta-analysis was conducted on data from 53 studies extracted by independent coders.
RESULTS: Parental role alteration emerged as the greatest source of stress for both mothers and fathers. Mothers reported higher stress levels compared to fathers. A significant difference emerged only for the subscale related to sights and sounds physical stimuli. No significant effects of infants' neonatal characteristics (gestational age, birth weight) and clinical conditions (comorbidities) emerged. A marginal positive effect of NICU length of stay emerged on the global level of parents' stress.
CONCLUSIONS: The current meta-analysis underlines that parental stress related to NICU admission is a worldwide healthcare issue. Immediate and tailored support to parents after the birth of their at-risk infant should be prioritized to reduce parental stress and to promote mothers and fathers' emotional well-being and new-born neurodevelopmental outcomes.