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Poole Hospital contributes to international research improving the experience of fathers in neonatal units

Fathers can be treated like outsiders in neonatal units, and better communication and engagement is needed to help them bond with their babies.

That’s what researchers from Poole Hospital and Bournemouth University (BU) have found as part of an international team examining the experiences of fathers in neonatal units.

The report, ‘Fathers in neonatal units: Improving infant health by supporting the baby-father bond and mother-father co-parenting’, makes 12 recommendations for units to improve their engagement with fathers and enable greater father-baby bonding with ill and premature babies.

These include more flexible visiting and accessibility, staff to be attentive to fathers who might be hiding their stress, and direct communication rather than sharing information through mothers.

Professor Minesh Khashu, consultant neonatologist at Poole Hospital and visiting professor of perinatal health at BU, is the research chair for the international group that authored the paper. “The paper is basically asking for a shift, saying that fathers should be seen as important as the mother, and a co-parenting paradigm is the best way forward,” said Professor Khashu, who has also introduced the Dad Pads Neonatal that offers advice and information for fathers. It has been rolled out nationally and is thought to be the only resource of its kind in the world and has been well-received.

minesh khashu

“Generally we find that fathers don’t necessarily get all the attention they need. When they have a baby in a neonatal unit, they will be around for the first few days but then usually have to go back to work while the mother and baby are there all the time.

“Father-baby bonding is important for the dad, the baby and the whole family. Even though fathers may not have the same degree of hormonal changes that the mother has, we are beginning to discover that changes do occur in dads as well as part of parenting and these play an important role in the father-child bond.”

Jillian Ireland, professional midwifery advocate at Poole Hospital and BU research assistant, who co-authored the study, said: “In maternity units, like ours in Poole, we are becoming increasingly aware of the needs of fathers especially when they perceive events around birth as traumatic.

“Over the past few years the NHS has increased its efforts to support good emotional and mental health in both men and women.”

The paper was co-authored by a wide range of international experts from universities in Australia, Canada, USA, France, Sweden, Denmark, and Italy alongside charity The Family Initiative, BU and Poole Hospital.

Professor Edwin van Teijlingen, professor of reproductive health at BU, was another of the authors. “Fathers are often outsiders in neonatal units and are treated as such,” he said.

“The mother is more likely to stay in hospital with the baby and the father comes and goes.

“In our patriarchal society we expect men to be strong and coping. This often affects how men respond to the difficult situation of having both the partner and the child in hospital and it also affects how neonatal staff treat them.”

 

Image: Professor Minesh Khashu

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