Objectives: To assess parents 19 first experiences of their very preterm babies and the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).\ud \ud Design: Qualitative study using semistructured interviews. \ud \ud Participants: 32 mothers and 7 fathers of very preterm babies (<32 weeks gestation).\ud \ud Setting: Three neonatal units in tertiary care hospitals in South East England.\ud \ud Results: Five themes were identified. The first describes parents 19 blurred recall of the birth. The second shows the anticipation of seeing and touching their baby for the first time was characterised by contrasting emotions, with some parents feeling scared and others excited about the event. The third theme describes parents 19 first sight and touch of their babies and their 18rollercoaster 19 of emotions during this time. It also highlights the importance of touch to trigger and strengthen the parent 13baby bond. However, some parents were worried that touching or holding the baby might transmit infection or interfere with care. The fourth theme captures parents 19 impressions of NICU and how overwhelming this was particularly for parents who had not toured NICU beforehand or whose first sight of their baby was on NICU. The final theme captures unique experiences of fathers, in particular that many felt excluded and confused about their role.\ud \ud Conclusions: This study informs family-centred care by providing insight into the experiences of parents of very preterm infants at a time when they are most in need of support. Clinical implications include the importance of offering parents preparatory tours of the NICU and including fathers
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