Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy



Date of Defense


Graduate Advisor

Dr. Roxanne Vandermause


Dr. Susan Dean-Baar

Dr. Lottchen Wider

Dr. Julie Bertram


Author: Lisa Cummings PhD RN

Fathers’ Experiences with Their Premature Infants or Unhealthy Neonates

Purpose and Background/Significance: Fifteen million babies worldwide are born prematurely each year, impacting a multitude of fathers. The importance of an early close father-infant relationship has been identified as central for the development of the child. Fathers influence on a child’s emotional and cognitive development and their physical well-being and health. Many times, the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) is the initial contact environment between a father and his premature infant. Studies have shown that the NICU can be a stressful environment for parents, producing emotional and behavioral responses. Therefore, it is important to examine the NICU experience as one of the first encounters between fathers and babies, one that can have lasting effects. The aims of this study were to:

  1. Generate an interpretation of the meaning of fatherhood for fathers of babies in the NICU
  2. Uncover how fathers’ own personal expressions of self, family and fatherhood manifest in their practices, habits, and skills
  3. Determine if the study methods are sufficient for answering the research question: What is the experience of fathers with premature babies or unhealthy neonates in the NICU?

Methods: Hermeneutic phenomenology is the guiding methodological approach to conducting in-depth interviews in this study. The interview process consists of an engaged conversation between the interviewer and the father, that is audio-recorded, de-identified and transcribed verbatim. Field notes including interviewer impressions comprise an additional source of data

Data Analysis: Several analytical processes, including scholarly readings of transcripts, synthesizing, theorizing relationships and contextualizing findings were used. Patterns and themes were shaped into a narrative by consensus of research team members using priciples of hermeneutic analysis.

Results: Patterns and themes reveal ways to understand and articulate fathers’ experiences in the NICU. An interpretation of meaning that addresses fatherhood in the context of the NICU experience is offered. This interpretation suggests immediate potential interventions for increasing opportunities to foster healthy father-infant relationships during the stressful experiences of “ NICU living” and offers implications for long term paternal involvement.