Background Previous research has described the experiences of parents in the neonatal unit. Many feel excluded from their baby's care and unable to fulfil what they perceive to be their parental role, which includes providing comfort and protecting from pain. The aim of the study was to explore what happens when parents are given specific information and encouraged to become involved in their baby's pain management.
Methods Using a focused ethnography methodology, eleven families (10 mothers, 8 fathers) were observed and interviewed. Data were collected between January and November 2008 from 25 periods of observation and 24 semi-structured interviews.
Findings Findings identified five stages experienced by parents as they progressed along a trajectory of learning to parent in the neonatal unit. Each stage appeared to have a meaningful role in the process, although the length and character of the stages differed for individual parents. When parents were specifically involved in providing comfort to their baby, this process was facilitated.
Conclusion Findings from this study suggest that parental involvement in comfort care can aid the process of learning to parent, which according to the findings of other studies, is difficult to achieve in the neonatal unit. Second, it can facilitate the transfer of responsibility from nurse to parent, which is discussed in previous research as being problematic. Third, it can assist the establishment of attachment behaviours, despite the numerous barriers to attachment in the neonatal unit which are also highlighted in the literature.
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