AIM The study aims to explore the supportive behaviour of nurses as experienced by mothers of premature infants in Hong Kong. BACKGROUND The sudden, unexpected delivery of a premature infant is an extreme shock to parents. Studies have confirmed the importance of nursing support to the relief of stress of parents. DESIGN A descriptive study design. METHODS A convenience sampling of 37 mothers in a neonatal Intensive Care Unit were recruited from a regional hospital to complete the 'Nurses Parent Support Tool' (NPST) which consists of four aspects: communication information support, emotional support, parental esteem support and quality care-giving support. Six mothers were interviewed after the completion of the tool to give examples of supportive and non-supportive behaviour. RESULTS The results showed that all of the mothers rated all nursing support items as important. However, there was a significant mean difference between perceived and received nursing support. These findings demonstrated that parents desired more nursing support than they received, particularly in the area of supportive communication and the giving of information. Comparatively, emotional support was rated less important as well as having been less often received than the other three domains of support. Interviews with six mothers further gave examples and described the types, attributes and the phases of support in the Chinese setting. CONCLUSION The findings indicate that Chinese parents are desirous of more nursing support than they received. RELEVANCE TO CLINICAL PRACTICE Nurses should be aware of the importance of tailoring nursing support to meet the needs of parents of premature infants.