How can I get doctors and nurses to include my partner at check-ups?

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How can I get doctors and nurses to include my partner at check-ups?
I recently had a pre-term baby and much of our lives have been spent in the NICU. Since then I’ve noticed the nurses, doctors and lactation consultants expect my husband to be a poor father to our baby. It irks me. For example, whenever the doctors or nurses come to talk to us about our baby they always speak to me only. They only ask me about the baby’s feeding habits. The nurses are surprised when my hubby gets up to change the diaper and does well with it. The lactation consultants ask me about my milk supply even though he is the one processing and keeping record of volumes. It is like they expect men to be uninvolved and distant. It is a shame.

I wonder if any other Offbeat Mamas with loving, supportive and nurturing male partners experience the same thing with medical professionals? How do they handle it? — Amy

Stephanie says…

First, as a fellow parent of a preemie, I can say this has nothing to do with your child being premature and everything to do with societal norms and traditions — my husband has TOTALLY had to deal with this. Our NICU was actually awesome about addressing both of us every time they spoke to us, but the nurses at our son’s pediatrician’s office haven’t been.

I think part of the reason behind this is that doctors and nurses see a lot of moms. I kind of nerdily (I have a BA in Sociology, guys, I can’t help it) pay attention to this at my son’s doctor’s office: a lot more moms or female caregivers accompany their child to appointments. I don’t know if this is because of work schedules (probably) or dudes just aren’t interested (I doubt that’s the case across the board), but whatever the reason — it is what it is. I also think that societal norms dictate that this is what is “supposed” to happen — women take care of the babies.

In our experience it’s not terribly hard to politely, but effectively, turn the tide. My husband has been able to come to almost every single appointment our son has had, which has helped tremendously — he’s also taken him in on his own a few times. If we’re in an appointment and the nurse or pediatrician repeatedly directs questions at me, I’ll very intentionally defer to my husband. Like, if I’ve been talking about cold symptoms and they ask if he’s been coughing, I’ll look at Sean and say, “Hey, do you remember him coughing?” and then I’ll let him speak. We also make sure my husband and I both hold our son at different points while in the office — that way they’ll look at each of us while we’re all talking.

Comments on How can I get doctors and nurses to include my partner at check-ups?

  1. My husband often asks a lot of questions early on in an appointment. That usually does the trick.

  2. We just became parents a few weeks ago, but I’ve been happy to see the hubs taking charge once we get in there, talking about how many diapers, vaccinations, etc. If they’re inclined to talk only to me, they din’t have an opportunity to get away with it.

  3. I don’t have much advice because this has never happened to us. I actually really surprised people are like that anymore! I wonder if the clinics and hospitals we have been to have specific training on this. The only think I can think of is: Is your husband a quiet kind of guy? Does he jump right in with questions and explanations etc? Like Jill said, maybe if he is the first one to talk or if he takes charge, then it won’t be an issue.

  4. A few days into my twins long NICU stay a nurse told my husband, “You’re a great dad. Unfortunately a lot of the NICU is geared toward moms. Make sure you speak up and make us all pay attention to you.” That stuck with my husband and he took it to heart. He’d call for regular updates and show up after his night shift to do bath time so he could chat with the nurses and spend some alone time with the babies.

    Now that the babies are home he does the same thing with the pediatrician and specialists. He goes to all the appointments and he solos the physical and feeding therapy session. He is really good about speaking up to make sure his questions are heard or he contributes to the conversation. He’s actually better at it then I am.

    I know it really bothers him when a nurse or a new specialist marginalizes him.

  5. I can totally understand if all questions concerning lactation are directed towards the mom. After all, that pretty much is the one thing besides actually giving birth that is restricted to the female!

    But I have found that in any situation where the man is supposed to take the lead (buying a car) or where the woman is supposed to take the lead (all things children) if you just smash people’s expectations right away, it helps. It means that you might have to take a back seat and be ok with it.

    But really, I can’t blame them too much, particularly if the baby is very young. At least in the US there really isn’t a paternity leave, so who knows more about the baby? The one that can take maternity leave.

    • We have actually found that our lactation consultant is all about my husband getting involved. He keeps track of my supply volume on our feeding sheets, makes my Mother’s Milk tea, and even steps in to lend a [literal] hand when needed while I’m pumping. Our consultant even arranges special late afternoon appointments with us so that my husband can attend. It’s nice to see some professionals *expecting* the father to be intimately involved with newborns.

  6. I’m with my little guy in the PICU (pediatric ICU) right now, two weeks out from his birth and a week and a half out from open heart surgery to begin stabilizing a congenital heart defect, and while all the doctors and nurses here have been excellent about involving both my husband and I in decisions about his care…I am definitely seeing this, too.

    I know that my husband is not quite as fluent as I am with all the medical terminology we’re dealing with, but we’ve talked through everything and he is completely in the loop. I had to go to almost all the prenatal appointments without him due to work schedules. This partly means that his doctors already know me better than they do him, but I also get the impression that they just communicate with me more because they KNOW I have all the background information. I’ve done my best to make sure my husband is present for any and every consultation, or to ask doctors to come back when he gets off work to fill him in, but it is tough. Even really communicative, compassionate doctors don’t necessarily have the time to fully explain everything to two parents at two different times, which I can sadly understand. The weird thing is that even though I might be more factually informed, my husband is WAY more stoic than I am when it comes to handling difficult news, so he really is the person doctors should be talking to sometimes!

    In a non-ICU situation, I will be more aggressive about scheduling appointments so that we were both present at all of them. I know my husband is comfortable speaking up, but once the pattern has been set, I know it’s tough to break. I think we’ll just have to be strategic about discussing questions to ask in advance, splitting up specific topics we want to discuss, and clearly demonstrating that we share equally in our little guy’s care. It feels like we need to perform an act to prove our equal knowledge and investment in our son’s care, but if that’s what we have to do so that we are treated equally, so be it.

    • I think you are awesome and strong! My husband also takes news better, but I’m always the one with pen writing stuff down so I can see why docs may direct the info toward me. My lil dude had his heart repaired at 2 months and is now 7 months. Your family is in my thoughts and in my heart.

  7. When I was in the hospital after giving birth to our daughter, I had preeclampsia and was completely out of it. I don’t remember much about the first to days of our daughter’s life, but I do remember the nurses practically ignoring my husband.
    They would talk to my mother about decisions regarding OUR daughter. And every time my mom – who is amazing – would get her hard Mom face on and say, “I don’t know what they want to regarding [blank]— but HER FATHER is standing RIGHT THERE. Why don’t you ask him?”
    It was probably because we were both rather young (20) and my poor husband has a baby face and looked 15.
    Still, it was a bit unnerving and my husband is just so polite and soft-spoken that he didn’t really stand up for himself.
    Only one nurse talked to us as a couple, which was great because my husband slept in a hospital for 3 days without going home once to even shower, changed all the diapers, and handled EVERYthing except the actual feeding (he kept the chart updated) when it came to our daughter.
    This time around, there will be a clear explanation to all nurses we come in contact with. When they come in to introduce themselves I plan on introducing my husband as the “Loving and adoring father, completely capable of making decisions and providing information regarding our baby.”

    • Both my guy and I had trouble being address by the doctors and nurses when goober was born because we were 18 and 19. My parents are wonderful and would just leave or directly tell them to talk to us. I understand babyface, i look about 14 still.

  8. My husband was also ignored in the NICU, and some of the nurses did not take kindly to his being a very involved advocate for the health of our son and me. Over the weeks we were there, many of them came around. One in particular was never accommodating to him and continued to be nearly malicious in response to his involvement, and we eventually wrote a formal complaint to the hospital. I guess what I’m saying is that if it continues to be a real problem, you don’t have to be subtle about letting the institution know how your needs and expectations weren’t met.

  9. As a new mother to a 5 month old one of the things that really irks me is when people remark that my husband is “a good helper”. It drives me nuts, we are co-parents!

    I’m a nurse, (I work in psych which is very different from the NICU though), and I really appreciate it when patients speak up about how they want care to go or if they are not happy with how it’s going. If there is a Doctor or a nurse that you see frequently that you feel comfortable talking to, do so. Although I work with medical professionals all day and yeah, I’d have to admit that most can be pretty unapproachable. In that case your husband just needs to make his presence known and keep on doing what he’s doing. Like others have said if he’s keeping notes on lactation defer any questions about it to him.

    Also don’t be afraid of talking to administration about your experience and how it could have been better. No matter if you are in a private hospital or a public one (I work in Canada) you are being provided a service and it is so, so important to give positive and negative feedback to those whose job it is to take it.

  10. Dad needs to be engaging from the beginning to really squelch the problem. I agree with Stephanie, asking my husband questions during office visits and letting him answer them. I was so frustrated the first time we met with one of the pediatrians in our group’s office. She handed him a packet and said “Here’s a little reading for mom. ” and he put it in our bag. It was on immunization shots! The way she said it made me think it was post-partum stuff! After that I made a point to make sure my husband was included!

  11. I agree with previous comments about dad stepping in with questions and comments. My husband is more outgoing than me and likes to joke around with people, so he gets involved right away. Once the dad puts himself out there, most docs and nurses will include him. You can even pass off some of your questions for him to ask if it helps him break the ice.

  12. I think the main reason most baby-things are addressed to mom is because for the most part moms are that ones that take of babies…but not in the way you may think.
    About half of all kids are born out of wedlock.
    Of the kids that are born into a marriage, about half of those will be being raised by a single parent, almost always the mom, by the time they are teenagers. And non-married relationships TEND to (not always, but more frequently) be even less permanent than the 50% divorce rate marriages.
    So the person that will end up doing most of the long-term care will almost always be mom.
    But for the dads that do want to be involved, pretty much everything the other commenters have said is spot-on.

  13. My husband is an SAHD, so he often knows our daughter’s habits and routines way better than I do, especially when they shift. We go together to all of her doctor’s appointments, and I make sure never to answer any questions about how much she eats every day, when her naps are, etc., (except when it comes to breastfeeding, since she is getting a combination of EBM and direct from me, we both needed to answer those). Our pediatrician also asks at each appointment who’s with her during the day, they know it’s her dad, and often address him accordingly.

    I also think it helps if dad has a good handle on what he wants to get out of parenting and how he wants to parent, and is active about it. It’s much easier to co-parent when it’s not just one person driving each and every decision, and that makes it much easier for dad to ask questions at appointments that are pertinent to things he knows about and is interested in.

  14. Wow that’s incredibly rude and I can’t understand it, having spent 3 months in nicu with our preterm baby. The nurses and dr’s were wonderful and would always include my husband, in fact once I was expressing milk during a briefing, the drs and nurses were happy to address him but also repeated the whole thing when I came out, rather than just hearing it second hand. They would also give updates to other fathers who would rin in if they couldnt make it that day? And the blokes got just as many kangaroo (skin to skin) cuddles! Sorry I don’t have much to add but I found when my questions were dismissed (when we briefly transferred to another hospital) I just became a nuisance and insisted on an adequate answer. Being vocal but still polite helps?!

  15. Yup, some similar experiences. But we see it more with friends, family and co-workers. I think my dad was both surprised and impressed by how involved my husband is in Olive’s everyday schedule and the jobs he takes on with no problem (soothing, diapers, etc). We’re also a bit sad that people seem surprised that he’s such an involved parent…I for one wouldn’t have it any other way!

  16. My wife and I are both work-at-home parents in technology, so basically we each get casual dismissal — just in different realms. Mom groups or pediatricians habitually speak to my wife first; DSL techs or mechanics habitually speak to me first.

    So our strategy is the same for either gender (or any situation, really). The acknowledged partner can help by deliberately including the unacknowledged partner. The unacknowledged partner has the more difficult job of not feeling snubbed 🙂

    That’s key in fact: it’s really common to just accept how other people treat you especially when it’s done so casually. Then when you forcefully engage after someone has tacitly indicated you aren’t worthy of engagement– well it feels rude or wrong somehow, or like an intrusion. It’s totally not, you’re just indicating that you can hang with the convo. And it’s important to speak up because you’re essentially saying “No really, I do have a place in this conversation on this topic”.

    This strategy doesn’t “fix” anyone and you aren’t going to change anyone’s perceptions. Just because I indicate interest and knowledge, our pediatrician isn’t going to respond overnight and say, “Oh, he’s a cool dad I’ll talk to him too.” . I can’t change her prejudices. But I can get my questions answered and take care of my kid which is the important part.

    Basically, be the change you want to see; but don’t get frustrated if people are still jerks.

  17. This happened to me and my husband starting from when I was pregnant through NCIU to now regular doctor visits.
    My husband dealt with this by introducing himself as my husband and our son’s father. He would ask questions. And make it very clear he is involved and won’t be ignored.
    Also, he has taken our son to doctor’s visits solo twice. The doctor knows our son has two parents, not one.

  18. My husband started coming to pre-natal appointments with me and recording the heartbeat on his iPhone. As my GP (who happens to be married to my hubby’s GP) is the dr I go to pretty much no matter what, she saw early on how involved my hubby was going to be and was able to develop a rapport with him (which turned out to be very useful while he was videoing the birth–I think getting to know him in advance put the dr at ease). Now she–and the nursing staff–are surprised when my husband’s NOT there for an appointment.

  19. Your husband is not alone. My son was born about 3 months early and we had a grueling stay in the NICU. It depended on the individual nurse, but even with the best nurses I felt I had to establish my credibility as a father before they started even acknowledging my existence. This drove me crazy (though I think it bothered my partner more!) There was one nurse we actually had to request the NICU to not assign to our son because she would not allow me to care for him even in the limited ways we as parents were supposed to be allowed to participate.

    I was happy to find that while it is a general trend based on the poor state of fatherhood in American culture, it is also highly individual between health care providers; our pediatrician engaged with me right away and keeps me in the loop even though my partner handles the routine visits.

    Like others have said, gently break the pre-conceptions right away (have Dad engage the provider first, or visibly handling the care, etc.) and don’t be afraid to speak up. Always remember, too, that you have the right to choose the medical team that is right for your child, and that can even involve choosing people who will respect and engage both parents.

  20. My opposite-sex Domestic Partner and I also had NICU struggles with Daddy being ignored – at least, at first. (Not to mention the “He’s not my husband” conversations.) We dealt with it in a number of ways:
    1. As soon as we found out that we could request a Primary Nurse to be our little dude’s main medical caregiver, we did so. We picked someone who had interacted respectfully with *both* of us (as well as our son), and who we felt would be a good intermediary between us and those who didn’t “get it”.
    2. My partner always stuck his face in there. Though I’m the one with the medical background, he was the one asking questions. “What’s the data sheet for this medication?” “What are the risks and benefits of this treatment?” “Could you please double check that blood type before transfusing?” etc. Doctors and the head nurses very quickly caught on, began to expect it, and certainly appreciated his involvement.
    3. He talked with our Lactation Consultant as much as I did! More, as I was the one freaking out about making enough milk, and he was the one chatting with her about how to get me to chill out so I could make milk.
    4. He made a point of obviously “teaching me to ___”, as he’d had more experience with the day-to-day of infants than I had. Even a few of the nurses who remained consistently clueless at least noticed that.
    5. Any staff member (nurse, respiratory technician, or doctor) who failed to interact with us in the way which we considered appropriate got formally and firmly requested to never touch our child or speak to us again. As NICU parents, we had that right. Our child stayed there for 3 months, and in that time we “fired” 3 individuals. Everyone else was warm, respectful, and helpful.
    In all, though our time at the NICU was a long, horrible struggle, I could not have done it without the staff *and* my Partner. You can do it! Don’t feel bad about setting the rules and sticking by them. 🙂

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