Contact with Intensive-Care Infants:
Father's Sex Type, Infant Preference,
and Frequency of Visits
Juarlyn L. Gaiter, Ph.D.
Alix A. S. Johnson, Ph.D.
In a review of literature on father influences on infants, Parke (1979) proposed a reconceptualization of the primacy of mother as "nurturer" of the infant and suggested a behavioral model that differentiated adult-infant interaction style. He concluded that historical, social, and economic conditions have dictated that men assume traditional roles but that men do not lack the ability to function as competent caregivers of infants.
Very little is known about the father's contact with preterm, sick babies. The early arrival of an unexpected sick newborn is a critical stressful event for both parents. For preterm infants who are transported to medical centers for specialized care, the father may immediately become the "primary" parent. If the mother remains hospitalized following a high‐ risk birth, the father is often the only parent able to visit the sick newborn and begin the early acquaintance process. In fact, the father may not merely substitute for the mother, he may assume full responsibility of parenting without her support.
The data reported in this paper are preliminary findings which describe the visiting patterns of fathers and their behavior toward their hospitalized preterm infants.
Some recent studies have described fathers' reactions to a preterm birth, although most of the investigators have used questionnaires rather than behavioral data. Benfield and colleagues (1976) reported that often fathers react with anticipatory grief toward the birth of a preterm baby. The level of grief may be unrelated to the severity of the infant's illness. Both Jeffcoate's (1979) and Marton's (1981) groups cited evidence that fathers are generally concerned not only with caring for their infant but also about coping with unexpected household responsibilities. In one behavioral study, Lind (1974) reported that fathers who visit and handle their hospitalized newborns remain involved by assuming an active caregiver role in the home. A particular personal benefit of this