Results Summary

What was the research about?

When infants are born early or have health problems, they get special care in the neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU, of a hospital. After leaving the NICU, infants can continue to have serious healthcare needs. Parents often have high levels of stress, anxiety, and depression during and after their infants’ NICU stay.

In this study, the research team tested a peer navigator program to improve parents’ mental health and confidence in caring for their infants. Peer navigators were parents with experience having a child in the NICU. The team compared parents who were in the peer support program with parents who weren’t in the program.

The research team looked at parents’ mental health and confidence. The team also looked at the infants’ health, hospital stays, and vaccines in the year after leaving the NICU.

What were the results?

After one year, parents who were and weren’t in the peer-support program reported similar decreases in stress, anxiety, and depression and increases in confidence in caring for their infants. Infant health, hospital stays, and vaccines also didn’t differ between the two groups.

Who was in the study?

The study included 300 parents of infants discharged home from the NICU at a hospital in Washington, DC. About half of the infants stayed in the NICU for less than 17 days. Of the parents, 44 percent were black, 39 percent were white, 8 percent were mixed race, 6 percent were Asian, and 3 percent were American Indian or Pacific Islander. The average age was 30, and 89 percent were women.

What did the research team do?

The research team assigned parents by chance to one of two groups. Parents in one group received support from peer navigators for one year. Hospital staff trained the peer navigators to provide support to parents in the study. Peer navigators contacted parents via phone, email, or in person to

  • Learn their needs
  • Connect them to resources, such as support groups
  • Help them make and keep doctor appointments
  • Answer their questions about insurance coverage and medical equipment

All parents in the study received a notebook to organize health records and information on community resources. The notebook also helped parents organize doctor appointments.

Parents filled out surveys at the start of the study and again one year later. The surveys asked about parents’ mental health and confidence in caring for their infants and hospital visits. The research team reviewed information on vaccines from the children’s health records. A psychologist assessed infant health.

Parents, doctors, and peer navigators helped design the study.

What were the limits of the study?

Not all parents in the program received the same amount and quality of support from the peer navigators. Results might have been different if peer-navigator support had been the same for all parents. Less than half of the infants were premature; many had NICU stays of less than one week. Results may have differed if the study included more infants who were premature or had longer NICU stays.

Future research could look at other ways to help parents and infants after leaving the NICU.

How can people use the results?

Hospitals can use the results when considering ways to help families after they leave the NICU.

Final Research Report

View this project's final research report.

Peer-Review Summary

Peer review of PCORI-funded research helps make sure the report presents complete, balanced, and useful information about the research. It also assesses how the project addressed PCORI’s Methodology Standards. During peer review, experts read a draft report of the research and provide comments about the report. These experts may include a scientist focused on the research topic, a specialist in research methods, a patient or caregiver, and a healthcare professional. These reviewers cannot have conflicts of interest with the study.

The peer reviewers point out where the draft report may need revision. For example, they may suggest ways to improve descriptions of the conduct of the study or to clarify the connection between results and conclusions. Sometimes, awardees revise their draft reports twice or more to address all of the reviewers’ comments. 

Peer reviewers commented and the researchers made changes or provided responses. Those comments and responses included the following:

  • The reviewers questioned how much involvement parents had in what the report described as focus groups. The reviewers noted that a focus group suggests a qualitative study was done, but the report did not describe the qualitative methods and results. The researchers added more detail about the methods and results of the focus groups and parent interviews to the report. The researchers noted that they used information from the focus groups to inform the intervention, but this was separate from the patient and stakeholder engagement work they conducted.
  • The reviewers questioned the choice of self-efficacy as an outcome since it appears that there was little room to improve on this measure. They asked whether the decision was made based on pilot data, suggesting that study participants lacked self-efficacy. The researchers said that data from focus groups and interviews suggested that self-efficacy was an appropriate outcome, and that research literature suggests that self-perception of one’s own ability to parent is critical to new parents’ interactions with their newborns.
  • The reviewers expressed concern that the outcomes measured in this study were not well aligned with the intervention. This may have led to the null study results when the parent navigation intervention could have a positive impact on different outcomes. The researchers revised their discussion to say that although the intervention did not affect the chosen outcomes, there was still reason to believe that peer-support programs such as this one should serve as a core principle of family-centered care in neonatal intensive care units.

Conflict of Interest Disclosures

Project Information

Karen Fratantoni, MD, MPH
Children's National Medical Center
Peer Support After NICU Discharge: Can Parent Navigation Improve Parental Mental Health and Infant Outcomes?

Key Dates

September 2014
October 2019

Study Registration Information


Has Results
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Last updated: April 12, 2024