We need to do more research into dads' experiences in the NICU

In this blog, MSc student Katie explains why her research project is focused on dads’ experiences of the NICU.

Katie is in her final year of an MSc in Early Child Development and Clinical Applications and the Anna Freud Centre in London. The course focuses on babies' development in the first few years of life, as well as discussing parent’s experiences. That's why Katie's final project is based on dads' experiences of premature birth and the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) during the Covid-19 pandemic. Find out more in the Q&A below. 

Why are you interested in this particular area of research?

My interest in this area of research comes not only from academic interest but also personal. I was born prematurely at 26 weeks and spent the first 4 months of my life in the NICU. When my dad talks about this time in our lives, he always said that he wasn’t sure whether to stay with my mum (who herself was ill) or be with me. He chose to see me, and he said the bond he felt was instant. This made me wonder what the experience of the Covid-19 hospital restrictions in spring/summer of 2020 was like for fathers, when they couldn’t see their premature babies as much as they would like to, or at all. 

Research suggests that father’s experiences are generally under-studied, with most studies of having a baby in the NICU representing mother’s experiences. Whilst these are of course important, there is clearly a gap in our understanding of fathers' specific experiences. In one particular survey of parents' experiences of having a premature baby during the Covid-19 pandemic, only 10% of participants were fathers. The study suggested that parents felt the visiting restrictions and wearing of PPE, such as masks and aprons, affected their ability to bond with their baby. However, because the study focuses on statistics, it is difficult to know the impact on parents' mental health during this time – particularly among fathers, as they are underrepresented in this area of research.

What does your study involve?

The study involves interviewing 5 fathers of premature babies born between March 2020 – August 2020 at 24-34 weeks gestation. The interviews will be take place over Microsoft Teams and be transcribed, before being analysed using a method called Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA). The study is qualitative, meaning it is not concerned with numbers or statistics, but that it's more about making sense of an individual’s experiences of something. IPA is great for this because as an analysis method it focuses in on the important aspects of an individual’s experience in detail, before then finding common or differing experiences between the participants. By doing this study, we're hoping to better understand fathers' experiences of having a premature baby during the Covid-19 pandemic – and this should help us to know how fathers can be better supported in the future.

How can people take part in your research?

If you're a father of a premature baby born at 24-34 weeks between March and August 2020, then I'd love to interview you. If you, or someone you know, would be interested in helping me with this project, please email me on [email protected]. Your name will not be included in the write-up and all your contributions will be anonymous.