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Home > Health > Article

Support for Fathers of Premature Infants

UMSL professor provides insight into fathers' needs

Fathers of premature infants might feel lost in the shuffle while their new babies are in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). A new paper from Shawn Pohlman, assistant professor of nursing at University of Missouri-St. Louis, suggests fathers of preterm babies often feel intimidated by the technology attached to their babies in the NICU and frustrated by a sense of helplessness.

For her paper, "Fathering and the Technological Imperative of the NICU: An Interpretive Inquiry," Pohlman interviewed nine fathers of preterm babies born at less than 33 weeks at three Midwestern hospitals. She followed their progress for nearly eight months.

"Fathers may feel powerless in the NICU because the level of technology puts a huge distance between the parent and the baby," said Pohlman. "Since there is very little research on fathers compared to mothers ­-- especially of premature babies -- I wanted to give them a voice."

Pohlman's research also suggests fathers' feelings of frustration, fear and alienation may be hidden from nurses as they often keep their emotions inside. For example, fathers may sit quietly at the bedside, but keenly watch their babies and the health care providers who tend to them.

"I think if fathers feel acknowledged and nurtured as parents and caregivers, they in turn, will feel more confident in establishing a loving relationship with their tiny, fragile newborns," said Pohlman.

Pohlman suggests regular debriefing sessions, screenings for depression in parents and additional coaching as ways to help fathers of preterm babies.

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