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  1. Huenink, Ellen DNP, FNP-BC
  2. Porterfield, Susan PhD, FNP-C


Background: Many neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) parents experience emotional distress leading to adverse infant outcomes. Parents may not cope positively in stressful situations, and support programs often are underutilized.


Purpose: To determine coping mechanisms utilized by NICU parents, and types of support programs parents are likely to attend. To determine whether sociodemographic and length-of-stay differences impact coping mechanisms utilized, and types of support programs preferred.


Methods: A correlational cross-sectional survey design was used. The 28-item Brief COPE tool, questions about demographics and preferred support program styles, was distributed to a convenience sample of NICU parents in a level IV NICU in the southeastern United States.


Results: One hundred one NICU parents used coping mechanisms, with acceptance emotional support, active coping, positive reframing, religion, planning, and instrumental support being the most common. Preferred support classes were infant development and talking with other NICU parents. Caucasians more commonly coped using active coping, planning, emotional support, acceptance, instrumental support, and venting compared with other races. Women utilized self-blame coping mechanisms more often compared with men. Younger parents were more likely to use venting and denial coping mechanisms. Parents with a shorter stay utilized self-distraction coping and preferred the class of talking with other parents.


Implications for Practice: Support program preference, type of coping mechanism utilized, and sociodemographic factors may be used to guide the creation of NICU support programs.


Implications for Research: Additional studies are needed to determine whether support program offering according to preferences and sociodemographic characteristics increases attendance and decreases emotional distress.