Experiences of fathering a baby admitted to neonatal intensive care: A critical gender analysis

Kathleen Deeney, Maria Lohan, Dale Spence, Jacqueline Parkes

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41 Citations (Scopus)
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More fathers than ever before attend at the birth of their child and, internationally, there is a palpable pressure on maternity and neonatal services to include and engage with fathers. It is, thus, more important than ever to understand how fathers experience reproductive and neonatal health services and to understand how fathers can be successfully accommodated in these environments alongside their partners. In this paper we advance a theoretical framework for re-thinking fatherhood and health services approaches to fatherhood based on Critical Studies of Men and Masculinities (CSM). We illustrate the importance of this feminist-informed theoretical approach to understanding the gendered experiences of fathers in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) setting. Using a longitudinal follow-up research design, with two data collection points, a total of 39 in-depth semi-structured interviews was conducted with 21 fathers of infants admitted to NICU between August 2008 and December 2009. The findings demonstrate: (i) ways in which men are forging new gendered identities around the birth of their baby but, over time, acknowledge women as the primary caregivers; (ii) how social class is a key determinant of men’s ability to enact hegemonic forms of ‘involved fatherhood’ in the NICU, and; (iii) how men also encounter resistance from their partners and health professionals in challenging a gender order which associates women with the competent care of infants. An understanding of these gendered experiences operating at both individual and structural levels is critical to leading change for the inclusion of fathers as equal parents in healthcare settings. © 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1106-1113
Number of pages8
JournalSocial Science & Medicine
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2012


  • Northern Ireland
  • Fathers
  • Gender
  • Parenting
  • Men
  • Masculinities
  • Neonatal services
  • Social class

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • History and Philosophy of Science
  • Pediatrics
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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