Experts call for father- and family-friendly processes in the neonatal units

The importance of bonding between mother and child is widely known, but a recent literature review paper[1], published in the Journal of Neonatal Nursing, shows that the bonding between father and child and the co-parenting of mother and father seem to be equally important.

According to the authors of The Family Initiative’s International Neonatal Fathers Working Group, there is evidence that including fathers and engaging mothers and fathers as a team is beneficial to the whole family. Unfortunately, fathers are often still reduced to being the main provider for the family and the caregiver for the mother rather than for his baby itself. Therefore fathers are often left out by neonatal care staff, as a consequence they consider themselves often less competent and have a high risk of depression. At the same time they feel that they always need to be strong, cannot open up emotionally and talk about their problems.

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So in order to improve the baby’s health and the well-being of the whole family, neonatal units should apply processes to better integrate the fathers, according to the study. They should also support fathers and give them practical directions on how to build up a relationship with their child, right from the beginning.

The study group provides 12 very concrete suggestions, here are some of them:

  • As fathers often have to work during day time, it is crucial to give them also access to the child at any time of day.
  • Provide fathers with a private, peaceful and calm area to practice skin-to-skin care with their child.
  • Give fathers a chance to talk about their worries and concerns, as they often have a tendency to hide it.
  • Give both parents important updates about their child together (vs. informing the mother and expecting her to inform the father later), as this behaviour will reinforce the feeling to be less important than the mother.
  • Give fathers a space in the hospital where they can exchange their experiences with other fathers. Research shows that exchanging experiences with persons who are in a similar situation reliefs some of the burden.
  • Train your nurses to be attentive and to facilitate father engagement.

Read more about Family-centred care in the hospital

[1] Fathers in neonatal units: Improving infant health by supporting the baby-father bond and mother-father coparenting
Duncan Fisher et al.
Journal of Neonatal Nursing, Volume 24, Issue 6, December 2018, Pages 306-312