Pathways to emotional closeness in neonatal units – a cross-national qualitative study

Flacking, Renee, Thomson, Gillian orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-3392-8182 and axelin, anna (2016) Pathways to emotional closeness in neonatal units – a cross-national qualitative study. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, 16 (170). ISSN 1471-2393

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Background: Research shows evidence for the importance of physical and emotional closeness for the infant, the parent and the infant-parent dyad. Less is known about how, when and why parents experience emotional closeness to their infants in a neonatal unit (NU), which was the aim of this study.
Methods: A qualitative study using a salutogenic approach to focus on positive health and wellbeing was undertaken in three NUs: one in Sweden, England and Finland. An ‘emotional closeness’ form was devised, which asked parents to describe moments/situations when, how and why they had felt emotionally close to their infant. Data for 23 parents of preterm infants were analyzed using thematic networks analysis.
Results: A global theme of ‘pathways for emotional closeness’ emerged from the data set. This concept related to how emotional, physical, cognitive and social influences led to feelings of emotional closeness between parents and their infants. The five underpinning organising themes relate to the: Embodied recognition through the power of physical closeness; Reassurance of, and contributing to, infant wellness; Understanding the present and the past; Feeling engaged in the day to day and Spending time and bonding as a family.
Conclusion: These findings generate important insights into why, how and when parents feel emotionally close. This knowledge contributes to an increased awareness of how to support parents of premature infants to form positive and loving relationships with their infants. Health care staff should create a climate where parents’ emotions and their emotional journey are individually supported.

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