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Supporting fathers in the NICU

Presented at the Neonatal Society 2016 Spring Meeting.

Kamlin COF, Wong O, Manley BJ, Davis PG, Thomson-Salo F, Judd FK, Kuschel CA

The Royal Women’s Hospital, Melbourne, Australia

Background: Whilst the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) environment has to provide appropriate clinical support for the infant, the needs of the parents and family also need to be considered. Traditionally there has been a focus on providing environmental, emotional and social support to mothers during the course of a baby’s admission. By means of an exploratory meeting in 2012, we identified a need for father-specific assistance to complement the range of other supports available.

Methods: A regular forum facilitated by a male neonatologist and a member of the maternal infant mental health team was established to provide opportunities for fathers to meet, share experiences, and seek (and provide) peer support. To encourage paternal attendance, sessions are held once a fortnight in the evening. Following voluntary participation in the meetings, fathers were asked to provide feedback about the groups and to offer suggestions for improvement.

Results: Approximately half the fathers provided feedback showing a high level of satisfaction with the group. Whilst some fathers return for two or more meetings, of those who were only able to attend one meeting, most still found the group helpful. It allowed them to share their experience and new knowledge in a peer setting, and acknowledge other aspects of their experience beyond the father-infant relationship. A common theme from the meetings and feedback reflect the early “roller coaster” of emotions, where fathers tackle new knowledge to gain a sense of control of the NICU environment. They take the roles of guardians and gatekeepers, often having to work, care for other children, and relay information to family and friends. Opportunities were identified to increase paternal engagement.

Conclusion: Fathers require special consideration in the NICU setting and they appreciate the value of sharing their personal experiences amongst their peers. Appropriate supports should be offered to increase paternal involvement with their child and that consider the many roles that fathers take on, particularly in the immediate newborn period.

Corresponding author: omar.kamlin@thewomens.org.au

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