After Preterm Birth, Family Care May Boost Dads Mental Health Too

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – After the birth of a preterm baby, new fathers appear to derive as much benefit from a family-integrated-care model in the neonatal ward as do new mothers, with less stress and improvements in mental health, according to a prospective study conducted in the Netherlands.

“Integrating the family as a relevant and irreplaceable part of the health care team and creating an environment welcoming continuous parental presence and active participation in neonatal care, or family integrated care (FICare), has been shown to be beneficial for mothers and their newborns,” the study team explains in JAMA Network Open.

But during the newborn’s stay, fathers often feel anxious and excluded from the baby’s care and decision-making and few studies and interventions have focused on their mental health and participation in neonatal care, they point out.

To investigate, Dr. Anne van Kempen of the Department of Pediatrics and Neonatology at OLVG, in Amsterdam, and colleagues enrolled 263 fathers of preterm newborns staying in the hospital for more than one week; 126 were enrolled in a FICare model consisting of single family rooms with couplet-care for the mother and newborn and 137 were enrolled in standard neonatal care (SNC) in open bay units.

Mental health and parent-participation surveys were completed by 89 fathers in FICare (71%; mean age, 35 years) and 93 fathers in SNC (68%; mean age, 36 years).

At discharge, FICare fathers perceived less stress (adjusted beta, -10.02; 95% CI, -15.91 to -4.13) and potentially participated more in caring for their newborns (adjusted odds ratio, 3.4; 95% CI, 0.86 to 5.988) compared with fathers in standard neonatal care, the researchers report.

This FICare model allows fathers to “participate more, which is associated with fewer depressive symptoms and better parent-newborn bonding,” they note in their paper.

Regardless of the neonatal unit’s architectural design, fathers should be supported to actively participate in all aspects of care of preterm newborns, the researchers say.

“Fathers should be enabled and supported to participate actively in all aspects of newborn care, and NICU care culture should be tailored to participation and the needs of fathers regardless of architectural design of the neonatal unit,” they add.

SOURCE: JAMA Network Open, online January 24, 2022.

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