Date of Completion


Embargo Period



postpartum depression, preterm, NICU, mother, father, contact, PDSS, postpartum depression screening scale

Major Advisor

Dr. Xiaomei Cong

Associate Advisor

Dr. Cheryl Beck

Associate Advisor

Dr. Naveed Hussain

Field of Study



Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Open Access


Background: Postpartum depressive symptoms in mothers of preterm infants in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) are a health crisis for mothers and infants. Mothers are at risk for mental suffering and infants are at risk for negative developmental outcomes.

Research Purpose: To investigate the relationship between a NICU mother’s postpartum depressive symptoms and NICU parent – infant contact. Design: Mixed- methods, sequential, explanatory design Methods: Convenience sample of 26 mothers of preterm NICU infants 28 – 32 6/7 weeks gestation participated. Maternal postpartum depressive symptoms were measured using the Postpartum Depression Screening Scale (PDSS). The PDSS was administered at 14 (PDSS_14) and 28 (PDSS_28) postnatal days of life. Parent – infant contact was recorded. A qualitative interview was conducted with the mother on day of life 28. Descriptive analysis was used for demographic and contact data; correlation analysis was used for maternal demographic and characteristics data, parental – infant contact data, maternal data with PDSS data and parental contact data with PDSS data; content analysis was used for qualitative interviews.

Results: The majority of mothers: 25-39 years old, married, Caucasian, educated; mean infant gestational age: 30.6 weeks. Seventy percent of mothers had elevated PDSS_14 scores and 60% of mothers had elevated PDSS_28 scores. High Cronbach alpha reliabilities existed for all PDSS dimensions. There were significant correlations between: maternal demographics and PDSS subscales, maternal - infant and paternal - infant contact, and between parent – infant contact and PDSS subscale and total scores. Content analysis revealed six themes: the all important mother-infant connection, under the maternal watchful eye, NICU staff: make or break a mother’s experience, the cycle of mental and physical exertion and recovery, somebody to lean on, and a place of unending stimuli.

Discussion: NICU mothers are suffering from elevated postpartum depressive symptoms. Maternal – paternal – infant contact relationships indicate high potential for decreasing PDD symptoms. Addressing the results from the qualitative thematic analysis could be highly beneficial for NICU mothers.

Conclusion: NICU maternal postpartum depressive symptoms need to be addressed and parental – infant contacts need to be encouraged.

Keywords: postpartum depression, preterm, NICU, mother, father, infant, contact, postpartum depression screening scale, PDSS