CONTEXT: An overview of the full range of neonatal stressors and the associated clinical, laboratory, and imaging outcomes regarding infants' health and development may contribute to the improvement of neonatal care.
OBJECTIVE: To systematically review existing literature on the associations between all kinds of neonatal stressors and the health and development of preterm infants.
DATA SOURCES: Data sources included Embase, Medline, PsycINFO, the Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature, and reference lists.
STUDY SELECTION: Studies were eligible if they included a measure of neonatal stress during the NICU stay, reported clinical, laboratory, and/or imaging outcomes regarding health and/or development on discharge from the NICU or thereafter, included preterm infants, and were written in English or Dutch.
DATA EXTRACTION: Two reviewers independently screened the sources and extracted data on health and development. Study quality was assessed by using the Newcastle-Ottawa Quality Assessment Scale.
RESULTS: We identified 20 articles that reported on neonatal stress associated negatively with clinical outcomes, including cognitive, motor, and emotional development, and laboratory and imaging outcomes, including epigenetic alterations, hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis functioning, and structural brain development. We found no evidence regarding associations with growth, cardiovascular health, parent-infant interaction, the neonatal immune system, and the neonatal microbiome.
LIMITATIONS: The studies were all observational and used different definitions of neonatal stress.
CONCLUSIONS: Neonatal stress has a profound impact on the health and development of preterm infants, and physicians involved in their treatment and follow-up should be aware of this fact.