Dad's touch helps premmie bubs thrive
Getting more dads into neonatal units could help hospitals’ littlest patients thrive, research from Edith Cowan University shows.
Researchers from the university’s School of Nursing and Midwifery and international collaborators examined existing literature about men’s experiences in hospital neonatal units that care for sick and premature babies.
They found that while fathers might feel out of place at times, the presence of dads in neonatal units was key to helping the most vulnerable babies thrive.
Nursing lecturer Dr Esther Adama said there was strong evidence that having skin-to-skin contact with their fathers in the first days of life provided significant health benefits for infants in neonatal units.
“Babies that had early skin-to-skin care from their fathers had better blood glucose levels, lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their saliva and were more settled,” she said.
“There is also evidence that early skin-to-skin contact with their fathers resulted in babies gaining weight faster in the first 28 days after birth.”
Dr Adama said the evidence showed that early close contact benefited fathers too.
“Research has shown that men who are more engaged in caring for their babies experience stronger hormonal and neurobiological changes that help to forge a stronger connection between fathers and their babies,” she said.
But the research also showed there were impediments to fostering the dad and child bond.
Dr Adama said the review highlighted the barriers that prevented more fathers from being highly engaged with their babies in neonatal units.
“We identified three particular attitudes — some would say myths — that may be preventing greater involvement from men in the crucial first 28 days after birth,” she said.
“These were that men are expected to work and financially support their family, that women are perceived to be better at caring and that men should be strong and avoid appearing vulnerable.”
Dr Adama said there were a number of things that neonatal units in hospitals could do to boost dads’ involvement. These included:
- involving fathers in decision-making and help them understand the unit’s technology;
- making neonatal units accessible at all hours for fathers and providing the opportunity for overnight stays;
- assessing fathers’ and mothers’ needs separately as individuals;
- allowing fathers to see other men in the unit spending time with their babies;
- communicating with fathers directly rather than solely via the mother.
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