Infant cardiac surgery and the father-infant relationship: feelings of strength, strain, and caution

Early Hum Dev. 2013 Aug;89(8):593-9. doi: 10.1016/j.earlhumdev.2013.03.001. Epub 2013 Apr 9.


Objective: The purpose of this study was to examine the father-infant relationship in infants with congenital heart disease (CHD).

Method: Sixty-three fathers whose infants had cardiac surgery before 3 months of age reported on their attachment relationship with their infant within two months of hospital discharge using both qualitative and quantitative methods.

Results: Mean scores on the Paternal Postnatal Attachment Scale and scores for patience and tolerance were not different from previously published community norms, ps>.05. Scores for pleasure and interaction (t[50]=-2.383, p=.021, CI: -2.93, -.25) and affection and pride subscale (t[56]=-2.935, p=.005, CI: -1.20, -.23) were significantly lower than community norms. Additionally, 37% of fathers described feeling a strong relationship with their infant whereas 17% reported initial apprehension or condition-specific worry. Fathers with infants who spent fewer days at home prior to admission reported feelings of relationship strain as well as lower pleasure in interaction, affection and pride, patience and tolerance, and overall attachment quality.

Conclusion: Having an infant with CHD affects some father-infant relationships differently than others with some fathers feeling closer to their infant and other fathers feeling reservation about getting too close. One explanation for these differences may be that spending a great deal of time in hospital restricts the number and quality of interactions infants have with their fathers. Opportunities for intervention include clinical psychosocial services encouraging fathers to interact with and provide physical care of their infant, especially if fathers perceive their infant as medically fragile.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cardiac Surgical Procedures / psychology*
  • Emotions*
  • Father-Child Relations*
  • Fathers / psychology*
  • Female
  • Heart Defects, Congenital / surgery
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature
  • Infant, Premature, Diseases / surgery
  • Male
  • Middle Aged