Fathers’ experiences with their preterm babies admitted to neonatal intensive care unit: A multi-method study

Stefana, A., Padovani, E. M., Biban, P., & Lavelli M. (2018). Fathers’ experiences with their preterm babies admitted to neonatal intensive care unit: A multi-method study. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 74,1090-1098. doi: 10.1111/jan.13527

Aim.The aim of this study was to investigate fathers’ emotional experiences of the preterm birth and the subsequent stay in NICU.

Background.When a baby is born preterm, also the process of preparation for fatherhood is interrupted ahead of time. As a result, preterm birth can impact on fathers with possible negative consequences for the development of father-infant relationship.

Method.A multi-method approach was used and included ethnographic observation, semi-structured interviews to 20 fathers of preterm babies, self-report questionnaire, and clinical information. Data were analyzed using a mixed-method: a thematic analysis of data from the interviews and quantitative analyses to detect possible clusters of fathers’ emotional experiences, and associations between clusters and fathers’ and/or infants’ characteristics.

Results.Two clusters were identified. The “fathers-of-preterm-infants” touched their baby (mean GA: 32.5 weeks) as soon as they were given the opportunity and without fear that they could have harmed their infant. They were struck by their baby’s physical appearance. In contrast, the “preterm-fathers” preferred not to touch their baby (mean GA: 29.1 weeks) when had a first possibility, because of the fear of breaking/damaging/infecting her/him. They were struck by both the baby’s physical appearance and the technology/equipment covering her/him, and were afraid that their infant would die. All fathers in cluster1, but only 63% in cluster2, were actively engaged in their infant’s care. Clusters were associated with the infant’s GA.

Conclusion.Fathers of preterm infants should receive a support specifically addressed to them and personalized based on when the preterm birth occurred.