The NICU Nurse and Family Impact

Sandy Sundquist Beauman, MSN, RNC-NIC / November 2015


Did you get an opportunity to attend the NANN conference in Dallas? It was Oct 22 – 25 and was packed full of clinical, research, developmental, discharge, follow up and managerial talks. Of course, not everyone who would like to go can go. That’s one of the difficulties with nursing – someone is always left behind keeping things going. But if anyone at your institution was able to go, I hope that they bring a flavor of what was discussed back to you.

We had a great talk about halfway through the conference on family centered care. This has been a buzz-word for several years now. This was a great topic, and when delivered by Kelli Kelley, the mother of a 24 week infant and another infant born at 34 weeks, was quite emotional. Her son, born at 24 weeks is now 15 years old. She told of her experience, and how she was motivated to create a non-profit group called “Hand to Hold.” She shared the story of how the name came about. After her son was born, she was in her hospital room crying. One of the NICU nurses came to speak to her and discovered her distress. The nurse took her hand, sat down next to her and reassured her that they would be there to help her through what lay ahead, not knowing exactly what that would be. Kelli shared that at that moment she did not need or want the nurse to call the social worker, chaplain, other family or anyone else and was relieved that the nurse did not offer to do that. She simply sat down and held Kelli’s hand, thus the name “Hand to Hold.” While this group has parent-to-parent support, oftentimes that support is needed in the moment – and nurses are closest to provide and recognize the need. Many of us have done this without really considering the effect it has on the parent, whether mother or father. Just a human presence is sometimes adequate, and often even without words. Her son has some relatively minor challenges and is doing quite well, by the way.

Most nurses, parents and the general public can understand the impact that NICU nurses have on the families of infants born at 24 weeks. These infants typically spend a minimum of 16 to 20 weeks in the NICU. Weeks of interaction and (usually) crises along the way create bonds that last for years, if not lifetimes. But, our last speaker, Ginny Beason, shared a story from a friend of hers whose infant was in the NICU for 4 days and is now 8 years old. This mother said that the NICU nurses were the most important people in her life, even 8 years later! I think it bears thinking about how often that this little tiny person under our care is the most precious, life-changing person in someone else’s life. We’ve been given the opportunity to impact the relationship those parents will have with their little one, and how this new person will interact with the rest of the world once they leave the NICU. Some things we heard about that impact their later interaction include how pain is managed, as well as measures to decrease the pain experience, avoiding infection, and when necessary, treating infection with the least toxic drugs and many, many others. Everything we do effects the person the infant will grow into.

I have a sweatshirt that a NICU nurse designed that says “Neonatal Nurses Changing the World, One Family at a Time.” Hopefully, we remember that it isn’t just the baby we are taking care of, but the entire family. I remember a nurse I worked with in 1980 who told the story of when she started working in the NICU. At that time, some 30 years before, it wasn’t really a NICU but a part of the newborn nursery where sick babies were placed. Parents were not allowed to visit, as it was thought to be too stressful for them, so they looked from the window to see their little person in an incubator. Then, once the baby was well, he or she would go home with parents who were not comfortable with nor often able to read the cues their baby would give. We now know that parental presence is important to the well-being of the neonate. Not only does it help the parent to learn how to care for their high risk infant who cannot yet tell them what they need, but also calm the infant who does know their parents already!


Would you like to read more on this subject? Read
“NICU Clinicians and Parents: Building Supportive Relationships.”

For more information on Hand to Hold, click here.


About the Author

Sandy Sundquist Beauman has over 30 years of experience in neonatal nursing. In addition to her clinical work, she is very active in the National Association of Neonatal Nurses, has authored or edited several journal articles and book chapters, and speaks nationally on a variety of neonatal topics. She currently works in a research capacity to improve healthcare for neonates. Sandy is also a clinical consultant with Medela. You can find more information about Sandy and her work and interests at