The Journal of Neonatal Nursing has recently published a description of a fathers’ group in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit of the Royal Women’s Hospital in Melbourne, Australia. It is a weekly group held at the NICU run by neonatologists and involving an infant mental health psychologist.
Fathers in NICU face particular challenges, for example:
- Reticence to ask for help and so display weakness.
- Detachment from the infant.
- Return to work and other family duties, for example, care of other children
- Worry about partner and infant.
- Relationship with the mother.
A growing number of studies has been showing that support for fathers in NICU leads to greater engagement between father and baby. Encouraging father-baby skin-to-skin contact has a particularly strong impact.
The Melbourne group runs weekly at 6pm (after working hours) for two hours and is promoted by flyers and word-of-mouth invitations from neonatal staff. Most fathers only attend once because their babies are only on the ward for a few days.
Group discussions are very animated, typically featuring strong expressions of sadness, anxiety and anger. Fathers attending the groups say they particularly appreciate the connection with others in a similar position. In addition to the meetings, a closed Facebook page has been set up, moderated by a member of the neonatal staff. The fathers universally express particular appreciation of skin-to-skin contact with their babies.
The authors make three practical recommendations for practice:
- Ascertain staff interested in leading a group and available to commit to doing so.
- Designate a room in the NICU if possible to that fathers feel that their infant is nearby.
- Consider which method to inform fathers about the group, e.g., flyers posted centrally or beside each cot, or staff encouraging fathers to attend.
Thomson-Salo F, Kuschel A, Kamlin OF & Cuzzilla R (2017), A fathers’ group in NICU: recognising and responding to paternal stress, utilising peer support, Journal of Neonatal Nursing 23.6
Photo: Joe Goldberg. Creative Commons.