Is being a Neonatal Nurse stressful?

In general, Neonatal Nurses tend to love their jobs; however, this is a very stressful job. And while there are many roles that may be considered less stressful, the jobs they work in can also be stressful. The stress of the Neonatal Nurse’s job can lead to compassion fatigue and burnout.

One of the main factors affecting staff health, efficiency and quality of nursing services is often stress. Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICUs) can also be high-stress environments for nurses, infants and families.

Neonatal Intensive Care Nurses often face work-related stressors. This makes them vulnerable and they may develop mental health problems, such as secondary traumatic stress, burnout, anxiety and depression.

What is stress?

Stress is considered a response or reaction of the body to certain internal or external stimuli called stressors. In response to these stimuli, the body uses a coping strategy to deal with the situation.

In Neonatal Nursing, stress is often one of the factors that tend to decrease the quality of patient care. The stay in Neonatal Intensive Care Units influences stress in Nurses.

Is stress a problem in the NICU?

For more than 40 years, stress generated in the NICU has been responsible for predisposing staff to work problems and eventually depression. This is largely due to the fact that this is a very demanding area, to the point of being linked to moral distress.

NICU Neonatal Nurses are particularly vulnerable compared to other healthcare professionals, as they often face additional stressors compared to those working in other areas.

They often face ethical dilemmas, which are related to the management of patient care and the threat of making mistakes that can have serious consequences. Neonatal nurses work with newborns who have a variety of problems, such as congenital disabilities, infections and cardiac problems.

Watching newborn babies struggle to stay alive is stressful. Neonatal Nurses are the ones who take care of the babies, but it is the parents who often suffer because they can’t even hold them.

However, sometimes going through this stress brings a certain degree of satisfaction in this role, when Neonatal Nurses can see a baby return home safely to their families.

Traumatic Stress Disorders

Exposure to work-related traumatic stressors can make NICU Nurses vulnerable to developing secondary traumatic stress disorder symptoms.

Secondary traumatic stress disorder can be diagnosed when Neonatal Nurses are exposed firsthand to a patient’s traumatic experiences. This is manifested through symptoms of avoidance, re-experiencing and hyperarousal.

The secondary symptoms of traumatic stress disorder are the same as those that occur in post-traumatic stress disorder. Neonatal nurses are vulnerable to developing secondary symptoms of traumatic stress disorder from coping with traumatic work-related stressors.

Ethical Dilemmas Fuel Emotional Stress

As Neonatal Nursing professionals work with newborn infants who may be high-risk, they are not exempt from facing complicated ethical dilemmas, which can generate emotional stress. A very difficult decision for Neonatal Care Teams to make is when to discharge a critically ill infant.

And while this is not a decision for Neonatal Nurses to make, they are the ones who interact with the babies’ families, providing them with information relevant to them and supporting them during difficult times.

Neonatal Nurses must be skilled at managing stress

Without fear of contradiction, the NICU environment is undoubtedly stressful for Neonatal Nurses, babies and families to the same degree. This is due to the high-pressure environment, the increasing needs of the babies being treated, the fears of the family and the team of medical professionals working to care for these babies.

In this environment, Neonatal Nurses must develop skills that allow them to manage stress. Certainly, all nursing specialties related to childbirth can be physically and emotionally exhausting.

Nurses must not only excel in their work, but also understand the importance of prioritizing self-care.

The rewards of Neonatal work are sufficient to outweigh their stressor

Neonatal Nurses overwhelmingly state that the significant rewards they get from their work far outweigh any stressors they may face. Being able to witness once critically ill babies recover shows them the true value of their daily work.

Many NICUs often organize special events, such as end-of-year celebrations, to which they often invite the families of babies who passed through their facilities in those units. Neonatal Nurses also say that NICUs offer positive opportunities for professional growth.

With some additional training, education and experience, they can pursue a number of advanced positions.


It is true that NICU Nurses face a lot of emotional stress during their shifts. But, neonatal nursing requires nurses to be highly skilled and passionate about what they do.

They must know how to perform well under pressure, even arriving at each shift with an extra dose of empathy and compassion. They must also be prepared to take care of their own needs and be able to ensure quality work.

Improving self-care can be difficult for Neonatal Nurses, as many are accustomed to putting the needs of others before their own. Learning to take more time for oneself is vital to keep stress and compassion fatigue at tolerable levels.

Marlene J. Shockley

My name is Marlene J. Shockley, and I am a Registered Nurse (RN). I have always been interested in helping people and Nursing seemed like the perfect career for me. After completing my Nursing Degree, I worked in a variety of settings, including hospitals, clinics, and home health care. I have also had the opportunity to work as a Travelling Nurse, which has allowed me to see different parts of the country and meet new people. No matter where I am working, I enjoy getting to know my patients and their families and helping them through whatever medical challenges they may be facing.