Premature birth - for dads and partners
Premature, or preterm, birth is when a baby is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy. About 8 out of every 100 babies are born prematurely in the UK.
Causes of premature birth
Premature births usually happen without warning and often doctors will not be able to find out why. Sometimes, doctors advise delivering the baby early if it’s the safest option for the mum, birthing parent or baby.
The midwife or doctor will tell your partner if there’s a known risk of giving birth early. They will explain what care your partner will receive to lower the chances of this happening. They will also tell you what symptoms to look out for, that may show your partner is going into labour.
Read more about the coping with the risk of a premature birth for dads and partners.
Your baby’s care
When a baby is born too soon, they may need special care on the ward or in a baby unit. They may be transferred to a more specialised unit if they were born very early or need extra care.
You will play an important role in caring for your baby in the neonatal unit. You’ll usually be able to be with your baby straight after the birth while your partner receives any treatment they may need. Caring for your baby can help you and your baby feel less stressed and strengthen your bond. But don’t feel pressured into doing anything you don’t feel comfortable with.
Here are some tips for caring for your baby in the neonatal unit:
- read, sing or talk to your baby and make eye contact.
- use still touch (touching your baby with a still, resting hand) and skin-to-skin contact.
- look after your baby’s daily needs, such as feeding, nappy changing and bathing.
- ask the neonatal unit staff if there’s anything you don’t understand or are worried about.
We have lots of information about premature birth and the care your baby will receive.
Read one dad’s story about his preterm baby having special care.
When your baby is born early, it can have a huge impact on your life. You’re likely to be worried about your partner and your baby as well as the other demands on your time, such as other children or work. You may feel powerless and unsure of what is going to happen.
If you know your baby is going to be born early, you and your partner can still make a birth plan. This gives you both the chance to think about what they want and don’t want to happen during labour and birth.
Family and friends can be supportive but they might not understand what it’s like to have a baby in the neonatal unit. They may also be worried and upset themselves. You could ask the neonatal staff if there are any support groups for parents of premature babies. Sharing stories and worries can help you feel supported and more confident to care for your baby.
Some people feel they would benefit from having professional counselling. The GP, midwife or health visitor can tell you what’s available in your area. Or you can get details of private counsellors from the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP).
You can also talk to a Tommy’s midwife free of charge from 9am–5pm, Monday to Friday on 0800 0147 800 or you can email them at [email protected]
Supporting your partner
Your partner will be recovering emotionally and physically from the birth. But they will also be coming to terms with giving birth early. You might like to show them our information about coping with a premature birth. You may also find some of the tips helpful for yourself.
Your relationship with your partner can be put under a lot of pressure. You may need to go back to work or you may be worried to tell your partner how you’re feeling. Talking to each other about your fears, worries and feelings can help you to support each other better and understand each other. Read more about managing relationships after premature birth.
It's important that you also look after your mental health after your partner gives birth.
More support and information
Having a premature birth can impact on your physical and emotional health. But you are not alone. There are lots of organisations that can provide more support.
NICE (2015, updated 2019) Preterm labour and birth. NICE guideline 25. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng25
NHS. Special care: ill or premature babies. https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/labour-and-birth/after-the-birth/special-care-ill-or-premature-babies/ (Page last reviewed: 16 May 2021. Next review due: 16 April May 2024)
Filippa M et al (2021) Systematic review shows the benefits of involving the fathers of preterm infants in early interventions in neonatal intensive care units. Acta Paediatr. 2021; 110(9): 2509-2520.
Burgess A, Goldman R (2018) Who’s the bloke in the room? Fathers during pregnancy and at the birth in the UK http://www.fatherhoodinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Whos-the-Bloke-in-the-Room-Full-Report.pdf
Hall SL et al (2015) Recommendations for peer-to-peer support for NICU parents. J Perinatol. 2015; 35 Suppl 1(Suppl 1): S9-13.
NHS. Premature labour and birth. https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/labour-and-birth/signs-of-labour/premature-labour-and-birth/ (Page last reviewed: 9 December 2020. Next review due: 9 December 2023)