Objective: To compare maternal and paternal experiences of very preterm (VPT) birth (gestational age < 32 weeks) and the NICU stay. Design: Qualitative study. Setting: Data collection took place at parents' homes 3 to 6 months after NICU discharge. Participants: Ten parental couples participated in the study (20 parents). All VPT infants were healthy, without any neonatal or postnatal complications or injuries. Methods: Computer-assisted content analysis was used to highlight thematic clusters from parents' narratives, which were labeled through qualitative interpretation. Results: Two main dimensions (Adjustment Process to Preterm Birth and Parental Role Assumption) and three main thematic clusters (Facing the Unexpected, Learning to Parent, and Finally Back Home) described the parental experience. Mothers focused mostly on the Finally Back Home cluster, which was characterized by moderate levels of adjustment to preterm birth and by awareness of their own maternal roles. Fathers focused mostly on the Learning to Parent cluster, which was characterized by low to moderate levels of adjustment to preterm birth and by a limited assumption of paternal role. Conclusion: To our knowledge, this study is unique in that we compared mothers and fathers who experienced the VPT births of their infants and described their experiences of the NICU stay. We found that the VPT birth experience for parents involves a dynamic adjustment. Differences in maternal and paternal experiences may indicate the need for tailored supportive interventions in the NICU.
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