“I couldn’t believe the buzz that went around the NICU about it,” James Whitehead says. “Often, the guys want to help, but don’t know exactly how to. And they’re on double duty as they try to take care of new baby and partner. So this was a perfect opportunity for previous NICU dads to share some tips and tricks of the trade with newer dads.”
Whitehead is talking about a new initiative in the NICU where fathers of new preemies get together for snacks and a chat. Social worker, Teresa Johnson, neonatologist Dr. Doug MacMillan, and NICU parent partner coordinator, Leah Whitehead, put together the initial “dad’s night” and it has since taken on a life of its own.
Leah Whitehead says dads were getting in touch with her for other things and she asked them if this would be something they would have interest in. “Five dads signed up right away, three dads from the unit who heard about it through word of mouth and came, and four other dads were sad they had missed it,” Whitehead says. “They’ve been so popular that it’s a regular occurrence now.”
Dr. Doug MacMillan, jumped on-board immediately and asked how he could be involved. He facilitated the meetings, and says many dads who have babies in NICU experience a similar sense of loss of a parenting opportunity as do moms.
“While there are some needs for the baby that dads cannot fulfill, for example breastfeeding, they can provide skin to skin care, feeding breastmilk by nasogastric tube, etc.,” Dr. MacMillan says. “Moms and dads working together can have a better understanding of the processes affecting their baby (or babies) and how they can assist. These sessions will help provide Dads with better tools to help support their baby and their partner while peer support will be anticipated to help assist their own needs”.
James Whitehead says there is a camaraderie being built among the men who know what it’s like being a dad on NICU. “The group provides the opportunity and permission to talk to other guys about tough stuff. These relationships allow the dads to move from an awkward nod given, not wanting to intrude, to having conversations and offering support. We are able to start saying things like ‘we’re having a good day, but I can see you’re having a bad day – want to have a coffee and chat?’”
Next steps to help address family needs on NICU may include initiatives for grandparents, siblings and other family members.