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  1. Martel, Marie-Josee PhD, RN
  2. Milette, Isabelle RN, NNP
  3. Bell, Linda PhD, RN
  4. Tribble, Denise St-Cyr PhD, RN
  5. Payot, Antoine MD, PhD


Background: Parents and their preterm infants (born between 32-37 weeks of gestation) are often overlooked by the healthcare system. And very little attention is given to the relationship parents develop with their infants in the neonatal unit (NNU). Specifically, very few studies focused on fathers and how they establish a relationship with their infants. However, we know that the father-infant relationship is extremely important for their future social development and more.


Purpose: This article presents the results of a qualitative study of the establishment of the father-premature infant relationship in an NNU.


Methods/Search Strategy: The study's theoretical framework was Bell's model of the parent-infant relationship, which encompasses discovery, physical proximity, communication, involvement, and emotional attachment. Ten fathers of premature infants (gestational age: 32-37 weeks) participated in 2 semistructured interviews (1 individual and 1 "in situ," ie, at the infant's bedside) during the first week following the premature birth.


Findings/Results: The results confirm the emergence of different components of the relationship between fathers and their children from the first days of hospitalization in the NNU. The commitment component is the basis for the development of other components in the relationship with their children. Furthermore, involvement influences the deployment of emotional attachment, discovery, physical proximity, and communication toward premature infants. Similarly, the 5 themes of the model can be seen as forming a dynamic nexus in which each theme influences the others.


Implications for Practice: For neonatal nurses, this model of the early father-child relationship helps the understanding of the deployment of that relationship according to 5 components. Similarly, it provides awareness of the experiences of fathers so that nurses can be better equipped to support and individualize interventions tailored to their specific needs, thus helping them develop and sustain the relationship with their children.


Implications for research: This study allows us to better understand fathers' experience regarding the establishment of the relationship to their premature infants born between 32 and 37 weeks of gestation. However, there is little understanding about the early paternal experience and more research on this dyad is necessary in neonatology.