When you find out you are going to be a parent you don’t envisage that you will be spending days like Fathers’ Day on the neonatal unit. You envisage that your happy little family will be at home with your first card and gift from your little bundle of joy being presented to you in a cute way (with help from Mummy). Instead you are on the neonatal unit sat beside and incubator or cot probably not expecting this to be your first Fathers’ Day.

Baby holding an adults hand. Photography credit: Liv Bruce
Baby holding an adults hand. Photography credit: Liv Bruce

The nurses and support staff tend to go to great lengths to make days like this still feel special even though the circumstances may be very stressful. There is usually some sort of decoration and a lot of units receive Father’s Day gifts.

Some new Dads can feel a little lost and unsure of how to get involved.

Here are some ideas:

  • Get involved with your baby’s cares. The nurses are always on hand helping to show you what needs doing. They are not expecting you to naturally just know what to do. If you have other children this will be a different experience as the neonatal unit will have procedures in place to minimise risks of infection.
  • Kangaroo care is great bonding time. Many think that only Mum can do kangaroo care, this isn’t true. Babies really benefit from skin to skin and it’s been proven to help their brain development – what a great excuse for some extra cuddles!
  • Reading! If you’ve seen any of the book of the month blogs then you will know how beneficial reading to a premature baby is. Reading can help to settle your baby as they hear a familiar voice. When they are settled it helps them to regulate their breathing so they need less help from a ventilator. It can help settle their heart rate as well. Studies also show that compared to babies that are not read to they have improved communication skills later. Reading also gives you something to do on your visit.

We didn’t spend Fathers’ Day on the neonatal unit, we were in for Christmas and New Year so I am aware what these days feel like. It will be special and memorable but in a different way.

My little preemie with his Dad
My little preemie with his Dad

Some Neonatal Dad statistics

There isn’t a lot of focus on Dad’s but the neonatal journey hugely affects them too. Neonatal Mental Health Awareness Week highlighted that 25% of Dads needed antidepressants/anti-anxiety medication after a neonatal stay.

Also when asked what they felt was the most traumatic experiences in the NICU were here were the responses:

  • 25% experienced separation anxiety from their baby,
  • 42% were affected by witnessing traumatic situations and
  • 17% found that their baby being transferred to another neonatal unit was stressful.

If you do feel like this then know that you are not alone.

Father’s tend to have to go back to work sooner as well. This usually happens whilst their child is still on the neonatal unit. This can lead to more stress as you try to divide your time between work, home and the neonatal unit. Seeing your doctor may open up more options to you. You can also look to charities like Bliss for support. There are specific Facebook groups too that are set up just for Dads like NeoMatesDads.

Baby's hand in adults hand. Photography credit: Liane Metzler
Baby’s hand in adults hand. Photography credit: Liane Metzler

It might be a year earlier than planned but have a lovely Fathers’ Day and spend time with your tiny but mighty little fighter! Remember to get those beautiful photographs of you and your baby too.