ALLOWING fathers to have more contact with their sick or premature babies in neonatal units has huge health benefits for both dads and their children.
When we reviewed the existing research looking at the presence of dads in neonatal units we found strong evidence that having skin-to-skin contact with their dads in the first days of life lead to much better health outcomes for vulnerable babies.
The research shows that babies who get this skin-to-skin contact with their fathers had better blood glucose levels, lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their saliva and were more settled.
We also found evidence that babies who got early close contact with their dads gained weight faster in the first 28 days after their birth.
This doesn’t just benefit the baby. There is also evidence that dads who have close contact with their newborn in the neonatal unit also experience stronger hormonal and neurobiological changes that help to forge a stronger connection between dads and their babies.
Unfortunately, our review also found there are still barriers that prevent more dads 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.
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.
There are a number of things that hospitals can do to break down these barriers and engage men in the crucial first 28 days after birth.
– Involve dads in decision-making and help them to understand the unit’s technology.
– Make neonatal units accessible at all hours for dads and provide the opportunity for overnight stays.
– Assess dads’ and mums’ needs separately as individuals.
– Allow dads to see other men in the unit spending time with their babies.
– Communicate with dads directly rather than solely via the mum.