They might feel out of place at times but the presence of dads in neonatal units is key to helping our most vulnerable babies thrive.
Researchers from ECU’s School of Nursing and Midwifery along with international collaborators examined existing literature about men’s experiences in hospital neonatal units that care for sick and premature babies.
Better for bubs and dads
Dr Esther Adama said there was strong evidence that having skin to skin contact with their fathers in the first days of life provides significant health benefits for infants in neonatal units.
“Babies that had early skin to skin care from their fathers had better blood glucose levels, lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their saliva and were more settled,” she said.
“There is also evidence that early skin to skin contact with their fathers resulted in babies gaining weight faster in the first 28 days after birth.”
And the benefits go both ways. Dr Adama said the evidence showed that early close contact benefited fathers too.
“Research has shown that men who are more engaged in caring for their babies experience stronger hormonal and neurobiological changes that help to forge a stronger connection between fathers and their babies,” she said.
Barriers to engagement
Dr Adama said the review highlighted the barriers that prevent more fathers from being highly engaged with their babies in neonatal units.
“We identified three particular attitudes – some would say myths – that may be preventing greater involvement from men in the crucial first 28 days after birth,” she said.
“These were that men are expected to work and financially support their family, that women are perceived to be better at caring and that men should be strong and avoid appearing vulnerable.”
Dr Adama said there were a number of things that neonatal units in hospitals could do to boost dads’ involvement:
- Involve fathers in decision-making and help them to understand the unit’s technology.
- Make neonatal units accessible at all hours for fathers and provide the opportunity for overnight stays.
- Assess fathers’ and mothers’ needs separately as individuals.
- Allow fathers to see other men in the unit spending time with their babies.
- Communicate with fathers directly rather than solely via the mother.
‘Fathers in neonatal units: Improving infant health by supporting the baby-father bond and mother-father coparenting’ was published in the Journal of Neonatal Nursing.