Role of Fathers and Non-Birthing Partners in NICU

The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) can be an overwhelming place for families, and many fathers and non-birthing partners feel their role isn’t as important as the mother’s. But dads and partners play a critical role in the NICU, whether they are taking an active role in caregiving, advocating for their baby, or providing emotional support. Read on to explore the importance of the father’s and non-birthing partner’s role in the NICU and how they can be supported and empowered during this difficult time.

Family-Centred Care

If you’re experiencing feelings of isolation or you’re not sure what to do or expect whilst your little one is in the NICU, rest assured, these feelings are natural and know that your role as a non-birthing partner is especially important. Neonatal care staff work hard to ensure family-centred care that involves both parents equally, as well as any siblings of the newborn.

As a father or non-birthing partner, you may be the primary caregiver of your baby in NICU, and your role is fundamental if the mother is recovering from childbirth or health condition.

Most neonatal care units usually allow both parents to spend 24 hours a day with their baby in NICU. The staff will do their best to avoid unnecessary separation of you and your preemie.

Both parents are also encouraged to be involved in their baby’s care (when possible), including feeding, handling and changing. This allows you to gain the necessary skills and confidence when the time comes to take your preemie home. The neonatal care staff will support and guide you through these processes. You can find out more about how to get involved in the section below.

What Can Fathers and Non-Birthing Partners Do in NICU?

Here are some things that may help you navigate life in the NICU (with the support of NICU staff) and make you feel more included in the care of your baby:

1. Get Involved with Your Preemie’s Care

With a lot of focus on the mother and baby bond, fathers and non-birthing partners can often feel left out. But you can help with the care of your baby too – benefiting not only you but also the mother, NICU staff and most of all, your little one.

Try getting involved in nappy changes, cleaning and feeding – this helps prepare you for life at home with your preemie and provides you with opportunities for skin-to-skin contact. The staff on the unit will support you in these tasks and help you become comfortable and confident when handling your little one. You can now order Pampers Preemie Protection Nappies online for free home delivery via

2. Try Skin-to-Skin Contact

Getting involved in your preemie’s care can also provide you with opportunities for skin-to-skin contact. Also known as ‘Kangaroo care’, skin-to-skin is a great way to form a close and loving relationship with your baby – your little one will love this special time with you! It may also help to calm and decrease stress in both you and your baby, and help them to regulate their temperature, heart rate and breathing.

The neonatal staff will help guide you through skin-to-skin contact. In some cases, you may only be able to hold your baby’s tiny hand or use comfort/ containment holding by gently placing your hands on your baby’s head or body to help them feel secure and calm if they’re in an incubator – either way, any physical contact and communication with your baby can go a long way.


One of the ways for parents to support newborn development, especially preemies, is kangaroo care, a form of skin-to-skin touch, where the parent holds a baby on their chest. Benefits for preemies include heartbeat and breathing stability, improved and more sleep, decrease in crying, and pain management for babies, as well as weight gain.

For more Need-to-Know Facts About Premature Babies, check out our informative article


3. Talk to Other Fathers and Partners

Talking to other fathers and parents that are on a similar journey may help you to feel less isolated in your situation. Talking about your feelings, especially with people going through a similar experience to you may help you understand how important your role is in the NICU and provide you with a support network. Some hospitals may have peer support for non-birthing partners or dads in the NICU, so it’s helpful to ask the neonatal staff.

4. Support and Comfort Your Partner

Supporting your partner through this period can help you both build and maintain your loving relationship. It’s good to maintain open communication in your relationship and comfort each other in times of need – remember, you’re a team!

5. Ask Questions

The neonatal team will usually provide you with all the up-to-date information about your preemie, but if you feel like you need more, don’t hesitate to ask them any questions you may have. It’s natural to feel overwhelmed and confused during a time like this, but asking questions, staying informed and familiarising yourself with the NICU may help you to feel more in control.

6. Write it all Down

Whether there are questions you want to ask the staff, information you’ve been told, reflections and thoughts, or simply a to-do list, writing it all down in a journal can help to clear your head a bit.

7. Reach Out When You Need Support

As a father or partner, you may need to balance time in the NICU, work, home life, finances, travel, etc., all whilst navigating the arrival of your preemie. It’s important to look after your mental health and well-being and reach out for help when you need it. As well as the neonatal team, ask family or friends for help and support, and you can also reach out to Bliss by emailing or visiting They could help with walking the dog, minding your other children, helping you with meals, or just being someone to talk to.

If you’re worried about finances, ask your neonatal unit if there’s any support available to you. You can find more financial support information on Bliss.

Role of Fathers and Non-Birthing Partners in NICU

Paternity and Maternity Pay and Leave

Do you feel like you’re juggling work, home life and finances on top of being present in the NICU? It’s natural to wonder what rights you have and if you’re entitled to any government support and paid leave from work. The good news is that as the father or other non-birthing partner of a newborn, you may be eligible for the following:

  • Paternity pay and leave. Fathers and partners may be eligible for 1 week or 2 consecutive weeks of leave once their baby is born and a percentage of their weekly earnings. You can also ask your employer if they offer any additional paternity benefits. To find out more information on your eligibility and how to apply, go to

  • Extra leave if your baby needs neonatal care. Talk to your employer about their leave policy or what support they might be able to provide.

Tips for Non-Birthing Partners and Dads in NICU

Know that you’re not in this alone! Many parents have gone through similar experiences to you, and many are also willing to share their advice with other parents. Here are some tips from other NICU fathers and partners:

  • “Don’t be afraid to seek (and accept) help. There’s no weakness in needing someone to talk to or a shoulder to cry on.” Carl, Father of twins born at 27 weeks

  • “Some fathers sometimes feel helpless - I think I did sometimes - but as long as you can support your other half with even the smallest things like pouring glasses of water, getting something from the shop, charging their phone or doing the washing at home, it all counts.” Mark, Father of Aurora born at 32+2 weeks

  • “My advice for fathers though would be, to learn about the NICU when you’re there. What I mean by this is, there is so much terminology used it's confusing to comprehend. Just stop and ask questions, never be afraid to ask.” Ethan, Father of Oliver born at 23 weeks

  • “Parents should really try to get involved in their babies care such as feeding and changing, although it is very scary it does help with the bonding process I know this first hand.” Tom, Father of Gracie born at 29 weeks

  • “I’d tell any dad on the neonatal unit to make sure that they don’t leave everything up to Mum and get involved from the outset.” Ben, Father of Nancy at 25 weeks

What Can Partners and Fathers Do in the First Hours in NICU?

Use our helpful list below to help you get through those first hours and days in NICU:

The Bottom Line

Both mothers and non-birthing partners play such an important role in NICU and their preterm baby’s life – but fathers and other non-birthing partners can sometimes be left out or experience feelings of isolation and overwhelm at the early arrival of their baby.

If you’re a NICU dad or partner, it’s important to remember that you play an important role! Being as involved as possible is helpful for you, your partner and your baby. Remember to put your trust in the neonatal care team, ask questions, reach out for help and support, get involved in the care of your preemie, and support your partner. Together we can make this journey a little easier!

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