Parental Experience Learning to Feed Their Preterm Infants

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PURPOSE:Although extensive research has been conducted on preterm infant oral feeding, few investigations have examined parents' experiences learning to feed orally their preterm infant while in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). As such, the aim of this study was to explore parental learning experiences to gain a better understanding of the process parents use in learning to feed their preterm infant.SUBJECTS:Parents included in the investigation were 18 years of age or older with a medically stable preterm infant who was less than 36 weeks' gestational age at birth, free of congenital malformations, and feeding orally.DESIGN:This investigation used phenomenology to explore the depth and richness of parental experience with the process of learning to feed orally their preterm infant.METHODS:Participants were recruited from a university-affiliated women's hospital with a level III NICU. Purposive sampling was used to ensure that all participants were familiar with the experience of interest. Data collection consisted of personal interviews, which were conducted in a private consultation room located within the NICU. In instances where both the infant's mother and father chose to participate, the interviews were conducted separately on the same day.MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES:Twelve mothers and 8 fathers participated in semistructured interviews. For 8 mothers and 6 fathers, this was their first child. This was the first preterm infant for all participants. From the parental experience, the following 3 themes were identified: an emotional experience, learn as you go, and it is technical.PRINCIPAL RESULTS:Parents noted that feeding encompassed both positive and negative emotions, that learning was a process that nurses played an instrumental role in, and that feeding a preterm infant could be very technical, requiring extra skills for feeding success.CONCLUSIONS:Nurses can play a key role in helping parents learn by acknowledging both positive and negative feelings about the feeding process, recognizing parents' learning needs, and by teaching and demonstrating appropriate feeding techniques.

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