NICU Dads – New Study Aims To Finally Hear Dads’ Experiences

NICU Dads – New Study Aims To Finally Hear Dads’ Experiences

Having a baby in the NICU is a shocking experience.

New mamas expect to give birth and spend the next few weeks hibernating at home while bonding with their baby.

However, when circumstances require a NICU stay, a mother’s postnatal experience can be one of the hardest experiences of her life.

NICU Dads – New Study Aims To Finally Hear Dads’ Experiences

But what impact does a NICU stay have on dads?

Well, it seems we aren’t really sure. There are many studies about the long-term impact a NICU stay can have for mother-baby pairs.

But little data exists to help us understand the impact a NICU stay can have on dads.

Dads typically prepare for the arrival of their little ones by getting baby gear together, helping to set up the nursery, and planning to support his partner through labour.

But what happens when that scenario changes and he’s met with a baby in an incubator with wires everywhere?

What happens when dad returns to work before his baby spends a single night at home?

Premature Birth Study To Explore How Fathers Fare In The NICU

Dr Karen Mattock from Western Sydney University aims to give dads a voice about their experience in the NICU.

Mattock and her colleagues hope the data from the survey they designed can give us a better understanding of how dads fare during a NICU stay.

In a recent press release, Mattock said, “Approximately 8.5 per cent of births in Australia each year are preterm.”

“We know that the trauma associated with the unexpected timing of birth, as well as the nature of the NICU environment, can impact on the confidence of parents and can lead to long-term challenges for families.

“What needs further exploration is the impact of preterm births on fathers.”

On why this particular study is important, Mattock explained, “Participation in the study will contribute to our understanding of the long-term impacts of premature birth on fathers, and may lead to intervention and support for fathers as well as inform practice policies within the NICU.”

In the simplest terms, dads who participate in this study have the ability to help future dads. When we know how the NICU impacts dads, we can do our best to support them through their challenging NICU journey.

How Can I Be Involved?

This study is geared towards dads who have recently experienced a NICU stay. If the following applies to you, you might qualify to participate:

  • You’re a father of an infant 12 months or younger
  • Your infant spent time in the NICU
  • Your infant was born prematurely (born prior to 37 weeks gestation).

If you meet the above criteria, you can read more about the survey by clicking here.

The survey takes about 20 minutes and aims to learn about dads’ overall experience in the NICU and the contact they had with their babies.

What’s The NICU Like For Dads?

We don’t have the data to show what it’s like for dads in the NICU. But as a NICU mama, I do know what my husband shared with me.

He said, “It’s like being in survival mode. When there’s a baby in the NICU there’s a lot of mixed feelings like anxiety, stress and finding a lot of patience. You take it day by day except then it becomes week by week. With other kids at home, it’s just surviving.”

In our experience, his NICU stay meant keeping our family afloat while I tried to be at the NICU as often as possible. It meant still having to go to work, taking care of the home, all while trying to find time to bond with a new daughter.

Both of our experiences were challenging, but they were likely very different. What helped me, is different from what helped him. What could’ve been done to make the stay easier for me, looks different than what could’ve been helpful for him.

That’s why this study is important. We know NICU mothers need support to be confident in caring for their baby. We know they need help with pumping, breastfeeding if desired and possible, as much access as possible to bond, and encouragement to practice kangaroo care.

We know close and frequent access to baby is beneficial for both mother and baby. But what about dad and baby? What do does a dad need when their baby’s in the NICU? What does a baby need from their dad?

This study hopes to find those answers.

Why Are Studies About Dads Important?

Child develop has always focused on mother-child interactions. We know the bond between mother and baby is important and we know mothers have a massive impact on their child’s development.

However, what newer studies are finding is dads have a vital role in their child’s development. For this reason, we’re finally seeing more studies about dads.

These articles show what some studies have already found:

As you can see, dads are important! This also means that his experience in the NICU matters. The entire family unit is impacted by a NICU stay.

It’s important that healthcare providers, policymakers, and support people have the data available to help them best support both parents when a baby must be in the NICU.

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Maria Silver Pyanov is a mama of four energetic boys and one unique little girl. She is also a doula and childbirth educator. She's an advocate for birth options, and adequate prenatal care and support. She believes in the importance of rebuilding the village so no parent feels unsupported.

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