A review of literature has listed key support needs of fathers in neonatal care. In many respects the needs of fathers are similar to those of mothers, but fathers have been studied very much less.
Challenges faced by fathers include:
- Feeling out of control (as for mothers).
- Work constraints. Typically, work leave entitlements for fathers are inadequate – they are very short, with no flexibility for the considerably enhanced difficulties of having a sick baby.
- Being classified as a second-class parent or “novice” and not as a full carer.
- Other family responsibilities, such as earning money and caring for other children.
Research shows that for most fathers of a new baby, if they have information they use it well in the care of the baby and feel empowered. A problem in intensive care can be too much information and also the timing of information, which can easily be imparted to the mother while the father is not there.
The article refers to the growing number of examples of webcam projects, whereby parents can see their babies at all times by logging in online. These are regarded very positively by parents, according to recent research.
Since fathers’ time in NICUs is typically limited, the use of this time is important. Staff can, for example, plan care of the baby when the father is present, though there are many constraints around this, for example the inflexible times of consultant visits. A care plan that specifically includes the father is another possibility, so that all the neonatal medical team are aware of the role the family wants the father to play.
A key suggestion of the article is that fathers are formally assessed when their baby is admitted to the NICU, so that their needs are understood and planned for. The article recommends the “fathers support scale” published in 2015 by Paula Mahon et al. This scale has 33 questions for fathers to rate on a 1-4 scale.
Taking Care of Your Baby
As a father of a baby in the NICU, how important are the following things to you?
- Getting regular information about your baby’s health
- Getting information about your baby in plain, non-medical language
- Being able to get the information you need about your baby from the NICU doctors
- Being able to understand what you hear about your baby on rounds
- Getting recommendations for your baby’s care from one doctor after medical meetings about your baby.
- Getting the information you need about your baby from the NICU nurses
- Knowing the roles of staff who care for your baby
- Getting a general idea (rather than a detailed report) about your baby’s health daily
- Feeling you are kept as well informed as the baby’s mother
- Being able to get information about your baby by phone
- Being able to talk with your partner often
- Being able to talk with friends about your baby often
- Being able to go to work
- Being able to take time off work to be with your baby
- Being able to take care of your finances
- Being able to help with the care of your other children
- Being able to talk with other NICU parents
- Being able to talk with your extended family about your baby
- Being able to get away to have some time on your own
- Being able to exercise
- Being able to pray or do other spiritual practices
- Getting away to have somentime with your partner
- Being able to talk to an expert about your emotions or feelings
- Being able to touch and hold your baby
- Being able to comfort your baby if he/she is in pain or looks upset
- Being able to do routine care for your baby such as feeding and diaper changing
- Being a part of important decisions about your baby’s care
- Having different doctors’ opinions about the best way to treat your baby
- Getting a medical opinion about your baby’s care from one doctor after a group discussion
- Being able to talk to parents who had a baby in the NICU in the past
- Understanding possible long-term problems your baby might have
- Being able to stay and sleep overnight in the NICU when your baby is sick (even if you live close to the hospital)
- Being able to have your baby take part in research studies
Walmsley R & Jones T (2016), Are fathers supported by neonatal teams?: an exploration of the literature, Journal of Neonatal Nursing 22
Mahon P, Albersheim S & Holsti L (2015), The Fathers’ Support Scale: Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (FSS:NICU): Development and initial content validation, Journal of Neonatal Nursing 21
Photo: Crawdrewford. Creative Commons.