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Pediatrics. 2008 Feb;121(2):e215-22. doi: 10.1542/peds.2007-1005. Epub 2008 Jan 8.

Fathers' experiences in the neonatal intensive care unit: a search for control.

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  • 1Department of Pediatrics, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.



This qualitative study aimed at understanding the experiences of fathers of very ill neonates in the NICU.


Sixteen fathers of very ill and/or very preterm infants who had been in the NICU for >30 days were interviewed by a male physician. Fathers were asked about their level of comfort with or concerns about staff communication regarding their infant, about accessing information, and about more general perceptions of their experience in the neonatal intensive care unit. Interviews were audiotaped and transcribed for analysis. Coding used content analysis with construction of themes by 3 researchers.


The overarching theme for fathers was a sense of lack of control. Their world view, as a "backdrop" theme, provided context for all of the themes. Four other interrelated subthemes were identified, including information; communication, particularly with the health care team; fathers' various roles; and external activities. Fathers reported that relationships with friends/family/health care team, receiving information consistently, and receiving short written materials on common conditions were ways of giving them support. The fathers said that speaking to a male physician was a positive and useful experience.


Fathers experience a sense of lack of control when they have an extremely ill infant in the NICU. Specific activities help fathers regain a sense of control and help them fulfill their various roles of protectors, fathers, partners, and breadwinners. Understanding these experiences helps the health care team offer targeted supports for fathers in the NICU.

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