Dads of premature babies feel more stress than mums, according to new study

It can be a difficult time for new parents.
It can be a difficult time for new parents.  Photo: Shutterstock

While it's stressful for both parents, a recent study has found that fathers feel more pressure after a premature baby is brought home.

Up until now, little research had been done into the impact having a premature baby has on dads. The latest findings show that on top of worrying about the health implications for their children, men feel additional stress to look after their partner and baby, and keep the household running.

"Dad and mum are faced with the responsibility of taking care of baby, taking care of each other," author of the study associate professor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine Dr Craig Garfield told US  TODAY.

"We hypothesise that may be what is responsible for the increase in stress."

As part of the study, he assessed survey results from 86 parents examining their stress levels. Their cortisol levels, an indication of stress, were also measured. Saliva tests were taken three times - on day one, five and 14 days after the baby came home from the hospital. High levels of cortisol are an indication of stress.

What he discovered was dads, while not admitting to being stressed, had higher levels of cortisol than their partners.

"They are actually internally feeling more stress than what they were reporting. That has lots of significance," Dr Garfield said.

"We need to find other ways to get at what dad is experiencing."

He said more research was needed to examine how to better identify stress in fathers and to support men to recognise signs of stress such as irritability, short temper, feelings of disconnect and working too much.

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More health education was also required to make the transition to fatherhood easier.

"Mums are given a lot of coaching and advice. Dads will say they do not know what to do," he said.

"We do a great job of preparing these babies to go home. Have we prepared the parents well enough to send them home?"

Chris Murphy, 28, told TODAY he did not cope well when his premature son Remy was born with a multitude of serious health issues.

"I had the worst anxiety of my life," he said.

"It actually took a huge toll on me. I couldn't sleep. I started drinking a lot. I wasn't really taking care of myself. I gained a heap of weight."

It's been a long road, but he's learned to better cope with stress and his son is now a healthy three-year-old, after enduring 15 surgeries.

"It is pretty amazing the type of person he is," he said.

"You would not know what he has been through unless he lifts up his shirt and you see scars everywhere."