Background: Complications during pregnancy, childbirth and/or the postnatal period may result in the admission of a baby to a neonatal unit (NNU). While the survival and long-term prospects of high-risk infants are enhanced by admission, the enforced separation of the parent and child may have psychological consequences for both. There is a need to develop and evaluate interventions to help parents ‘feel closer’ to their infants in circumstances where they are physically separated from them. In this paper we present findings from an in-depth, theoretically-driven, evaluation of a technological innovation designed to address this need. The study sought to explore parent and professional views of the impact of the technology, which transmits real-time images of the baby via a webcam from the NNU to the mother’s bedside in the post-natal care environment.
Methods: A qualitative approach was adopted, guided by a critical realist perspective. Participants were recruited purposively from a NNU located in East-central Scotland. Thirty-three parents and 18 professionals were recruited. Data were collected during individual, paired and small group interviews and were analysed thematically. Following the initial analysis process, abductive inference was used to consider contextual factors and mechanisms of action appearing to account for reported outcomes.
Results: Views on the technology were overwhelmingly positive. It was perceived as a much needed and important advancement in care delivery. Benefits centred on: enhanced feelings of closeness and responsiveness; emotional wellbeing; physical recovery; and the involvement of family/friends. These benefits appeared to function as important mechanisms in supporting the early bonding process and wider transition to parenthood. However, for a small number of the parents, use of the technology had not enhanced their experience and it is important, as with any intervention, that professionals monitor the parents’ response and act accordingly.
Conclusions: With a current global increase in premature births, the technology appears to offer an important solution to periods of enforced parent-infant separation in the early post-natal period. The current study is one of a few world-wide to have sought to evaluate this form of technology in the neonatal care environment.
- neonatal unit