A dad's role in the NICU

KEY POINTS

  • Having a baby in the NICU can be stressful for parents. Expect to have strong feelings about your baby’s health and care.

  • You and your partner may deal with the stress of the NICU differently. It’s OK to have different feelings.

  • Your partner may need extra support during the NICU stay. If you’re worried about her health, talk to the NICU staff or her health care provider.

  • Go to shareyourstory.org to find support and encouragement from other parents with a baby in the NICU.

What are common emotions for dad when your baby’s in the newborn intensive care unit?

Having a baby in the newborn intensive care unit (also called NICU) can be stressful. You may have a lot of different feelings while your baby’s in the NICU. You may feel:

  • Scared about your baby’s medical condition and what may happen to her in the future
  • Sad about your baby being in the hospital and not at home like you planned
  • Overwhelmed by your life outside the NICU, like going to work, paying bills, taking care of other children and taking care of things at home
  • Worried about how your partner’s recovering from labor and birth and coping with your baby’s condition
  • Angry about the changes that the NICU makes in your life
  • Frustrated by not being able to help your baby
  • Love and pride in your new baby and happy about the progress she makes and the problems she overcomes

How can you deal with your emotions when your baby’s in the NICU?

The birth of a sick child can put stress on relationships with your partner, family and friends. Everyone has their own feelings and copes with stress differently. This is especially true for men and women. For example, you may not want to talk about your feelings, so your partner may think you don’t care. When you add family and friends into this mix, it can get really stressful.

Here’s what you can do to help you deal with the stress of your baby’s NICU stay:

  • Talk to your partner. Don’t be afraid to tell her how you feel. 
  • Know that everyone may react differently to the same situation. There’s not one right response. Listen and try understand others’ feelings.
  • Decide with your partner how much information you want to share about your baby’s condition. Your partner may want to share fewer details, especially if she feels responsible for your baby’s condition. Decide together what information you’re both comfortable sharing and how you want to share it. Will you or your partner tell others or can you choose a trusted friend or family member to do the sharing for you?
  • Talk with your boss. Tell him about your baby’s condition in case you need to leave work unexpectedly or need to take calls from your baby’s health care provider.

How can you support your partner during your baby’s NICU stay?

Your partner may worry a lot and need extra support and understanding. Here’s how you can help:

  • If she can’t go to the NICU, tell her how your baby’s doing. Your partner may not be able to go to the NICU. She may feel tired, uncomfortable or sad to spend time in the NICU. Instead, show her pictures of your baby and tell her about your baby’s condition and medical care. 
  • Help her provide breast milk for your baby. Help get bottles ready, make sure the breast milk is stored correctly and take it to the hospital so it’s ready when your baby needs it. Breast milk is the best food for most babies, and it’s even better and healthier for babies in the NICU.
  • Be patient. Your partner’s fears, pain and tiredness may make her stressed. Changing hormones after pregnancy may make her emotional and moody. Hormones are chemicals made by the body. Some help control emotions and mood. During pregnancy, a woman’s body has higher levels of certain hormones, but these quickly drop after giving birth. This sudden change may make it hard for your partner to cope with her feelings. 
  • Encourage her to take care of herself. Your partner may not be getting enough rest or eating healthy foods. Bring in a healthy dinner or offer to stay with your baby so she can take some time for herself.
  • Reassure her. Your partner may feel responsible for and guilty about your baby’s condition. If she feels severe guilt, encourage her to talk to a counselor or a support group. A support group is a group of people who have the same kinds of concerns and share their feelings to try to help each other. The NICU staff or your partner’s health care provider can help her find a counselor or support group. Support groups like shareyourstory.org are available online. Shareyourstory.org is the March of Dimes online community for families. If you’re worried that your partner may hurt herself, call 911.

See also: Share your story

Last reviewed: February, 2017