Objective: To compare, in a large representative sample of European neonatal intensive care units, the policies and practices regarding parental involvement and holding babies in the kangaroo care position as well as differences in the tasks mothers and fathers are allowed to carry out.
Design: Prospective multicenter survey.
Setting: Neonatal intensive care units in eight European countries (Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, The Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom).
Patients: Patients were not involved in this study.
Measurements and main results: A structured questionnaire was mailed to 362 units (response rate 78%); only units with ≥50 very-low-birth-weight annual admissions were considered for this study. Facilities for parents such as reclining chairs near the babies' cots, beds, and a dedicated room were common, but less so in Italy and Spain. All units in Sweden, Denmark, the United Kingdom, and Belgium reported encouraging parental participation in the care of the babies, whereas policies were more restrictive in Italy (80% of units), France (73%), and Spain (41%). Holding babies in the kangaroo care position was widespread. However, in the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Spain, many units applied restrictions regarding its frequency (sometimes or on parents request only, rather than routinely), method (conventional rather than skin-to-skin), and clinical conditions (especially mechanical ventilation and presence of umbilical lines) that would prevent its practice. In these countries, fathers were routinely offered kangaroo care less frequently than mothers (p < .001) and less often it was skin-to-skin (p < .0001).
Conclusions: This study showed that, although the majority of units in all countries reported a policy of encouraging both parents to take part in the care of their babies, the intensity and ways of involvement as well as the role played by mothers and fathers varied within and between countries.