Emotions matter

FlackingEmotions matter when it comes to maternal child health care, says Associate Professor at Dalarna University Dr. Renée Flacking, RN, PhD.

“It may sound really obvious, but it isn’t,” she says. “Our actions, as parents or staff, are to a high extent governed by our emotions.”

Emotions are important for implementing new and hopefully better guidelines or interventions. When staff find new care routines tedious or difficult, they are less likely to work accordingly, Flacking goes on.

“From a parental perspective, the journey they make through their baby’s hospital stay is so influenced by their emotions and how well they are supported emotionally,” she says.

If parents aren’t given the opportunity to share their experiences and emotions with someone they have a trustful bond with, the hospital stay becomes really difficult. Not only this, parents’ experiences are affected after discharge too.  

Even so, Flacking observes that emotions are very rarely discussed, from the parental perspective or the staff’s perspective.

With a background as a pediatric nurse, working in a neonatal care unit for more than 10 years, Flacking says she has witnessed increased parental presence and participation in infant care.  

Although there are still many countries where parents do not have the opportunity to stay with their babies for more than a few hours per day, Flacking says she’s noticed a huge, global change.

For example, a neonatal unit in Drammen, Norway offers parents and babies private rooms.

Staff are better able to serve families in these private spaces, Flacking notices.  

She notes that Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC) is one of the most important activities to increase physical and emotional closeness in neonatal units. But staff are able to offer other areas of support too. Personal trainers are available to mothers, for example,and parents are offered classes on ‘mindfulness.’

“I am amazed by parents’ resilience and their ability to cope in the neonatal environment and I’m even more amazed by how parents interpret their babies and what they can do for the babies – if we let them,” Flacking says.  

Perhaps most importantly, Flacking and Professor Fiona Dykes’ recent ethnographic research,  Being in a womb’ or ‘playing musical chairs’: the impact of place and space on infant feeding in NICUs, has found that design and spatial configuration impacts feeding.

The results from the study state:

The core category of ‘the room as a conveyance for an attuned feeding’ was underpinned by four categories: the level of ‘ownership’ of space and place; the feeling of ‘at-homeness’; the experience of ‘the door or a shield’ against people entering, for privacy, for enabling a focus within, and for regulating socialising and the; ‘window of opportunity’. Findings showed that the construction and design of space and place was strongly influential on the developing parent-infant relationship and for experiencing a sense of connectedness and a shared awareness with the baby during feeding, an attuned feeding.

Together, Flacking and Dykes edited a recently published book Ethnographic Research in Maternal and Child Health. Healthy Children Project’s Kajsa Brimdyr also has a chapter in the ethnographic text.

Flacking will present Closeness and Separation in the NICU and What is happening with breastfeeding in Swedish NICUs at the 22nd Annual International Breastfeeding Conference. Register here!
Next summer, Flacking, along with the center Reproductive, Infant and Child Health (RICH), will host Dalarna University’s 7th international interdisciplinary conference, Nutrition and Nurture in Infancy and Childhood: Bio-Cultural Perspectives.

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