‘It turned my life upside down’: Parents' emotional experience of the transition with their preterm infant from birth to discharge Home—A qualitative study

Published:December 01, 2022DOI:



      A smooth transition from the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) to home is critical for establishing parents' competence as primary caregivers and ensuring infant health. In the clinical context with a restrictive visiting policy, family-centred care is challenging to implement, prohibiting a smooth transition of care for the families. According to Meleis’ Transition Theory, parents might experience emotional change initiated by critical events during this transition.


      The aim of this study was to understand parents' emotional experience of their preterm infant's birth to discharge home from the NICU to facilitate the care transition better.


      This qualitative descriptive study using semistructured interviews was conducted between June and August 2020. Purposive sampling was used to recruit 17 parents (6 fathers and 11 mothers) from the NICU of a tertiary hospital in eastern China. Data were analysed using content analysis.


      The following three situational themes characterised by three-phase emotions related to 16 critical events were obtained from the data and were used to describe parents’ experiences during the transition: Theme 1, Life falling apart; Theme 2, Feeling anxious and struggling with uncertainty; and Theme 3, Feeling both hopeful and inadequate at discharge.


      Parents of preterm infants have distinctive emotional experiences in each phase during their infants' transition from the NICU to home. Awareness of parents’ critical events and emotional experiences in each phase could help NICU staff anticipate and provide timely and targeted support for parents. The next step is to develop a family-centred intervention for healthcare providers to better prepare parents for the transition from the NICU to home.


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