Original Research

The experience of women from rural Australia with a preterm infant in a neonatal intensive care unit


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Kerrie Lee Laidlaw
1 BN, Hons.Mid, GDip.Mid, GCert.NICU, GCert.Ment.Hlth , Academic/Lecturer * ORCID logo

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Ivanka Prichard
2 BBehavSc (Hons), PhD, Associate Professor ORCID logo

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Linda Sweet
3 BN, MNgSt, GradCert Higher Ed, PhD, Professor ORCID logo


1 School of Health, Nursing and Midwifery, Federation University, Churchill, Vic. 3842, Australia

2 Caring Futures Institute, College of Nursing and Health Sciences, Flinders University, Bedford Park, SA 5042, Australia

3 School of Nursing and Midwifery, Deakin University, Burwood, Vic. 3125, Australia; and Centre for Quality and Patient Safety Research, Western Health Partnership, Victoria, Australia

ACCEPTED: 14 October 2022

early abstract:

Objective: To understand the experiences of women from rural areas who have had a preterm infant admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit.
Setting: Rural areas of Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, and Western Australia.
Participants: Five women aged 29-36 years who birthed a premature infant less than 32 weeks-gestation within the previous six months at the time of recruitment.
Design: Semi-structured interviews using Zoom explored the experience of the women and were analysed using thematic analysis.
Results: Four key themes were identified from the data: (a) emotional trauma; (b) social displacement; (c) external coping resources; and (d) craving continuity of care. Social displacement further impacted the emotional trauma already experienced by women who birthed a preterm infant by temporarily relocating to the city to be near to their infant in the neonatal intensive care unit. This led to the utilisation of additional socio-economic resources including support from extended family and rural community members. The women highly valued yet struggled to find appropriate peer support and continuity of health care for their infant within their rural community after discharge from the neonatal intensive care unit.
Conclusion: Health professionals have an opportunity to explore ways to address social displacement, particularly in relation to socio-economic support and the involvement of extended family into a family integrated care framework within the neonatal intensive care unit. The long-term effects of this on the mother-infant dyad and the lack of appropriate community support also requires further examination.