Background Limited research has been conducted to assess family needs in neonatal intensive care units. Health care providers often make assumptions about what families need, but these assumptions are unfounded and can lead to inappropriate conclusions. When assessed appropriately, family needs can be incorporated into individualized plans of care, enhancing family-centered care.

Objective To assess the needs of parents in neonatal intensive care units, we asked the following 3 questions: What are the most and least important needs of families in a level III neonatal intensive care unit? Do parents’ needs differ at admission and discharge? Do the needs of mothers and fathers differ?

Methods Parents were interviewed by using the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Family Needs Inventory. Participants rated statements as not important (1), slightly important (2), important (3), very important (4), or not applicable (5).

Results Fifty-two (93%) of the 56 items were rated as important or very important, and parents rated assurance-type needs highest. Parents at admission rated support needs higher than parents at discharge rated those needs. Needs of mothers and fathers did not differ significantly.

Conclusions Identifying the needs of parents in neonatal intensive care units can enhance nursing communication and allow nurses to incorporate parents’ needs into families’ plans of care. The family needs inventory can help identify those needs and allows the integration of individualized nursing care to fulfill those needs, providing a positive family-centered experience in the unit for patients and their families.

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