Stress in the NICU

Stressful events – a byproduct of life for babies in the NICU – may increase their heart rate and blood pressure, while decreasing their oxygen levels.1 Even sensory and environmental stimuli we take for granted, such as a simple touch and noise and bright lights, can affect physiologic responses such as heart rate, respiration, and oxygen saturation.([FOOTNOTE=Peng N-H, Bachman J, Jenkins R, et al. Relationships between environmental stressors and stress biobehavioral responses of preterm infants in NICU. J Perinat Neonatal Nurs. 2009;23(4):363-371.],[ANCHOR=],[LINK=]),([FOOTNOTE=Smith JR. Comforting touch in the very preterm hospitalized infant: an integrative review. Adv Neonatal Care. 2012;12(6):349-365.],[ANCHOR=],[LINK=])

The additive impact of multiple stressors over time may have profound long-term consequences on the lives of NICU babies.3 In the rapidly developing perinatal brain, repeated neonatal stress may have long-term effects on the central nervous system,3 including effects on neural structure, function, and development.([FOOTNOTE=Newnham CA, Inder TE, Milgrom J. Measuring preterm cumulative stressors within the NICU: the Neonatal Infant Stressor Scale. Early Hum Dev. 2009;85(9):549-555.],[ANCHOR=],[LINK=]),([FOOTNOTE=Smith BA, Gutovich J, Smyser MD, et al. Neonatal intensive care unit stress is associated with brain development in preterm infants. Ann Neurol. 2011;70(4):541-549.],[ANCHOR=],[LINK=])

The Types of NICU Stressors

Respiratory Stressors

Nutritional Stressors

Infection Stressors

Sensory Stressors


Neonatal stress may have long-term effects on the physiological systems of fragile, preterm infants that may affect their development.3

This website is an educational resource, designed to help you manage neonatal stress and improve patient care.

A Day in the Life of the NICU

Watch how the staff of Rush University Medical Center combats neonatal stress.