It is important for fathers to have physical contact with their babies in a neonatal intensive care unit. It benefits the baby and it strengthens the father-baby bond. Parents should ask for this and hospitals should provide them with good guidance.
Researchers at Hallym University Sacred Heart Hospital in South Korea ran an experiment to show the benefit of fathers giving “tactile stimulation” to their premature babies. They trained 20 fathers who then stroked their babies for 10 minutes a day over five days. They then compared these 20 fathers and babies with 20 other fathers and babies who had not been through this process.
They found that babies who had received tactile care from fathers had higher oxygen saturation levels. Meanwhile, the fathers reported more paternal attachment.
The researchers measured paternal attachment by asking 35 questions on sevens topics: visual awareness of the newborn, tactile awareness of the newborn, awareness of distinct characteristics of the newborn, attachment perceived as ‘‘perfect,’’ strong feeling of attraction to the newborn, experience of extreme elation, and role perception as a father.
Having a baby in intensive care is extremely stressful and many fathers (like mothers) have very little idea what to do. They need to be provided with good guidance.
The stroking sequence taught to the fathers was:
- Make sure your hands are clean warm and you have taken off rings and watches. Do not use oils.
- Place the baby in a restful position with his or her face turned to the right.
- Smoothly stroke the baby’s body in the following four ways, for 2½ minutes each: (1) from the top of the head to the neck using the right palm; (2) from the neck across the shoulders and back to the neck using the right finger; (3) from the upper back to the buttocks and reversing to the upper back using the right palm; and (4) from the thigh to the foot on both legs simultaneously using the father’s right finger.
When fathers are close to their babies in this way, hormonal and neurobiological changes take place within the father, increasing his attachment to the baby and triggering innate caring instincts. (For example, see Testosterone changes in caring men and Babies decrease fathers’ testosterone.)
Kim MA, Jim S-J & Cho H (2016), Effects of tactile stimulation by fathers on physiological responses and paternal attachment in infants in the NICU: A pilot study, Journal of Child Health Care 21.1
Photo: Martin LaBar. Creative Commons.