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Social support and the experience of fathering a preterm infant

Flora Koliouli, Chantal Zaouche Gaudron, Charlotte Casper, Laurence Berdot-Talmier, Jean-Philippe Raynaud

Research Framework: Several studies have shown that the parents’ experience in the advent of preterm birth can be of a traumatic nature and have an impact on the quality of the parent-child relationship (Lindberg, Axelsson and Ohrling, 2008). However, we must take note of the fact that the processes at play among fathers remain mostly unknown.
Objectives : This exploratory study aims to develop a model for understanding the fathers’ experience of preterm infants. This experience is appreciated through the father’s relationship with the infant (Blomqvist et. al., 2012, Helth and Jarden, 2013) and experience of becoming a father (Zaouche Gaudron et. al., 2003 ; Zaouche Gaudron et. al., 2005) but also through the father’s relationship with the medical team (Fegran and Helseth, 2009). The extent of the child’s prematurity is also considered (Ibanez et. al., 2006).
Methodology : The sample includes 48 fathers of preterm infants. We developed and used a semi-directive interview based on the Clinical interview for Parents of High Risk Infants (Meyer et. al., 1993) to collect the data. The focus is on the partner’s pregnancy, labour and delivery, the relationship with the infant and social support.
Results : Our main results indicate that the fathers build an initial bond with their infant through skin-to-skin contact and eye contact. They also reflect the traumatic experience that is connected to preterm birth, with ambivalent feelings such as fear, stress, but also happiness. The main source of social support, besides the family, is the healthcare team, and the other parents in the department.
Conclusions : The main conclusions allow us to make proposals concerning professional practices aimed at supporting the paternalization process in the particular context of preterm birth.
Contribution : Within a qualitative perspective, this study sheds light on the father’s experience in the specific context that is the birth of a preterm infant.