Mothers who have one-on-one sessions with nurses after having a premature birth are found to decrease their postpartum symptoms, according to a recent study. Findings published online in the journal of Perinatology show that preterm babies' mothers, who participated in a series of personal sessions with neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) nurses, lowered their anxiety and depression symptoms while also improving their self-esteem. The team of researchers conducted the study at the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital to observe how one-on-one sessions with NICU nurses could affect mothers with premature infants. Twenty-three mothers with preterm infants participated in the study that ran from 2010 to the first half of 2012.

The participants received an average of five one-on-one sessions that lasted approximately 45 minutes each with Rebecca Siewert, co-author of the study and an advanced registered nurse practitioner who has worked in NICUs for 30 years. For the one-on-one sessions, the mothers were given the option of choosing the setting: their room, an outdoor patio, or the cafeteria. A mother’s first session focused on how giving birth to a premature baby felt. The participants described the process as an emotional rollercoaster because they hardly saw the premature baby afterwards, Iowa Now reports.

The mothers were asked to fill out the Quality of Life, Enjoyment and Satisfaction Questionnaire before and after the one-on-one sessions. The participants reported an overall better sense of self-esteem and a more positive outlook on their situation. The researchers also did a follow-up assessment a month after the last session to evaluate the effect that the sessions had on levels of depression and anxiety.

In the study, depression was measured by using the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale. The one-on-one sessions between the mothers and Siewert reduced depression levels from a mean of 14.26 (before the sessions started) to a mean of 9.00 (after the sessions ended), which is below the standard for professional help.

Anxiety levels were measured using the Beck Anxiety Inventory. The mothers experienced a decline in anxiety levels from a mean of 16.57 at the initial start of the study to a mean of 9.13 after the study. The study authors noted that the drops in depression and anxiety levels are statistically significant and telling of the influence that talking can have on mothers with postpartum symptoms.

“A lot of times they suffer in silence because they don’t want to sound as if they’re weak and not doing well, and because all the focus is on the baby, they become secondary,” said Lisa Segre, assistant professor in the University of Iowa College of Nursing, reports Iowa Now. “The mother needs to be healthy to be able to take that baby home and for that baby to do well,” Siewert said.

The researchers noted that the sessions helped the mothers to focus on themselves and their needs. The majority of these mothers often feel that their needs are trivial in comparison to the struggles that their preterm babies face.

Some critics questioned the validity of the study because there was an uncertainty as to whether these mothers should talk to mental health professionals instead of an NICU nurse. Segre acknowledged to Iowa Now that the study is preliminary, and that she would like to test the results on a larger randomized and controlled trial to solidify scientific data.

“Listening is what nurses have done their whole career,” Siewert said. “We’ve always been the ones to listen and try to problem solve. So, I just think it was a wonderful offshoot of what nursing can do. We just need the time to do it.”

One out of every nine babies in the United States is born premature each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.