NICU stress affects preterm infant development

Research shows exposure to stressors in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) is associated with alterations in the brain structure and function of very preterm infants. The study found infants who experienced early exposure to stress displayed decreased brain size, functional connectivity, and abnormal motor behavior.

Infants born prior to the 37th week of pregnancy are considered preterm, which occurs in 9.6% of all births worldwide, according to the Bulletin of the World Health Organization (WHO). In addition to increased mortality risk, prior studies have shown that up to 10% of very preterm infants (22-32 weeks gestation) have cerebral palsy, nearly 40% display mild motor deficiency, and up to 60% experience cognitive impairments, social difficulties and emotional issues.

Babies who are premature are commonly admitted to the NICU for specialized medical attention, allowing time for immature organs to further develop. While interventional studies have demonstrated that exposure to stressors in the NICU may be harmful and reducing stress in premature infants improved outcomes, it is unknown how stressors in neonatal units impacts infant brain development.

The article was not online at the time of publication so the link below is to an alert service from the journal.

Read more at Annals of Neurology