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Keywords:

  • attachment;
  • midwifery;
  • nurses;
  • nursing;
  • premature birth;
  • parents

Aim.  To compare mothers’ and fathers’ individual views and experiences of the attachment process in a neonatal intensive care unit within the first week after a premature birth.

Background.  The attachment between parents and children is a precursor to the consolidation of parenting skills, the growth and development of the infant and the establishment of a bond between parent and child. Premature birth and the resultant hospitalization disrupt the normal attachment process between parent and child. Most of the litteraure on attachment theory focuses on the mother–child connection and is being criticised for regarding the father's role as supportive and peripheral.

Methods.  The design of this study was descriptive with a hermeneutic approach. Twelve parents (six mothers and six fathers) in a 13-bed neonatal intensive care unit in a Norwegian regional hospital participated in a field study addressing the encounter between parents and nurses. This paper is based on the semi-structured interviews with the parents at discharge.

Results.  The interview analysis revealed two main categories. (a) Taken by surprise: For mothers, the premature birth created a feeling of powerlessness and they experienced the immediate postnatal period as surreal and strange. The fathers experienced the birth as a shock, but were ready to be involved immediately. (b) Building a relationship: Mothers experienced a need to regain the temporarily lost relationship with their child, whereas the fathers experienced the beginning of a new relationship.

Conclusion.  Comparing parents’ experiences of the attachment process within the first days after a premature birth reveals a striking contrast between the mother's experience of surrealism and the father's ability to be involved immediately after birth.

Relevance to clinical practice.  Parents’ of premature children's different starting points should be acknowledged as professionals encourage parents to have early skin-to-skin contact with their premature infant.