Starting parenting in isolation a qualitative user-initiated study of parents’ experiences with hospitalization in Neonatal Intensive Care units during the COVID-19 pandemic
Peer reviewed, Journal article
MetadataShow full item record
Original versionPLOS ONE. 2021, 16 (10), 1-17. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0258358
Background: Worldwide, strict infection control measures including visitation regulations were implemented due to the COVID-19 pandemic at Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICUs). These regulations gave restricted access for parents to their hospitalized infants. The consequence was limited ability to involve in the care of their infants. At Oslo University Hospital entry to NICU was denied to all except healthy mothers in March 2020. The absolute access ban for fathers lasted for 10 weeks. The aim of this study was to explore parental experiences with an infant hospitalized in the NICU during this absolute visitation ban period. Methods: We invited post discharge all parents of surviving infants that had been hospitalized for at least 14 days to participate. They were interviewed during autumn 2020 using an explorative semi-structured interview approach. Data were analyzed via inductive thematic analysis. Results: Nine mothers and four fathers participated. The COVID-19 regulations strongly impacted the parent’s experiences of their stay. The fathers’ limited access felt life-impacting. Parents struggled to become a family and raised their voices to be heard. Not being able to experience parenthood together led to emotional loneliness. The fathers struggled to learn how to care for their infant. The regulations might lead to a postponed attachment. On the other hand, of positive aspect the parents got some quietness. Being hospitalized during this first wave was experienced as exceptional and made parents seeking alliances by other parents. Social media was used to keep in contact with the outside world. Conclusions: The regulations had strong negative impact on parental experiences during the NICU hospitalization. The restriction to fathers’ access to the NICU acted as a significant obstacle to early infant-father bonding and led to loneliness and isolation by the mothers. Thus, these COVID-19 measures might have had adverse consequences for families.