Between the prepping, shopping, and celebrating, few events in life are more highly planned or anticipated than the birth of a child. When life throws a curve ball and the plans go awry, families find themselves in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), overwhelmed and attempting to get their bearings.


The emotional toll from the unexpected birth and subsequent NICU stay may cause traumatic stress reactions or even post traumatic stress disorder in parents, siblings or family members. Working in a NICU, you're no stranger to the emotional roller coaster families experience and comforting families is second nature.  It's one thing to provide your families with a sympathetic shoulder. It's another to implement trauma informed care in an effort to reduce the traumatic aspects of a NICU stay.  How might trauma informed care look in a NICU? Kara Wahlin, MFT suggests: 


1. Safety and containment. Confidentiality, professionalism, and awareness are crucial when working with patients who are coping with extraordinary circumstances. Part of safety means developing a protocol for handling confidential information, as well as providing staff with resources for speaking to their own frustrations. 

2. Empathy and empowerment. It’s important to recognize that a patient in trauma is just that: a patient in trauma. 

3. Caring for the caregivers. This one is tough. Oftentimes doctors, nurses, NPs, social workers, and all members of a NICU care team work so often and so thoroughly that the idea of forcing some kind of “self-care” activity seems unfathomable. 

4. Referral when a patient (or staff) is beyond the scope of practice of your abilities as a provider. Although this seems simple, a standardized referral process should be established at every NICU. Therapists, support groups, psychiatrists, books, online resources — all should be provided to families.


These suggestions are just a few of the ways trauma informed care can benefit NICU families and staff. Screening all patients using the DEF Protocol, or another psychosocial screener, is another way to help identify families that may need additional support. If you work in the NICU, or another ICU, share with us on Facebook how you use trauma informed care with your families. 


Want to learn more about trauma informed care? Check out our free continuing education courses!