Mothers experience more stress in a neonatal intensive care unit when alone and without the father present. “It was very important to be two”, said one mother in a Norwegian study of 8 mothers and 8 fathers who had had a baby in intensive care.
Whilst both parents experience the situation in similar ways – stress, fear, alienation and a sense of chaos and unreality – mothers and fathers can respond in different ways.
Fathers can try to fit into the role of the “strong” person. Sometimes they have to cry alone and unseen. If the mother is also unwell, the father is concerned for her care as well as the baby’s, while the mother can focus more of her concern on the baby.
Meanwhile, mothers put more pressure on themselves and are more likely to report that they are “not coping” with the care. They tend to take more control of caring.
Both parents experience challenges with bonding with the baby. Both fathers and mothers like kangaroo care:
“That’s when you feel that you are responsible for the baby, for the first time. You realise that it is your daughter.” (Father)
“When she was born and they placed the baby on my chest, it was like having my heart put in place.” (Mother)
Hagen IH, Iversen VC & Svindseth MF (2016), Differences and similarities between mothers and fathers of premature children: a qualitative study of parents’ coping experiences in a neonatal intensive care unit, BMC Pediatrics 16
Photo: Jim Lynch. Creative Commons.