Objective To explore how the fathers experience their role as a support for their partner and the relationship with them during their preterm infant's stay in the NICU. Study design Multi-method longitudinal study involving ethnographic observation, semi-structured interviews, self-report questionnaires, and clinical information. Twenty fathers of preterm infants hospitalized in a level-III-NICU were included. Data were analyzed using thematic continent analysis. Results Three main themes were identified: support for mother (subthemes: putting mother's and infant's needs first; hiding worries and negative emotions; counteracting the sense of guilt; fear that the mother would reject the child), mother's care for the infant (subthemes: observing mother engaged in caregiving; mother has "something extra"), and couple relationship (subthemes: collaboration; bond). Conclusion Fathers supporting their partners during the stay in the NICU experience emotional distress and the need for being supported that often are hidden. This demands a great deal of emotional and physical energy.
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