Ukulele Class in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit

Support for Parents Before and During COVID-19

Brianna Negrete, MM, MT-BC, NICU MT


Pediatr Nurs. 2021;47(2):97-99,103. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


A ukulele class developed and taught by a music therapist provided peer support to fathers of infants in neonatal intensive care. With the advent of COVID-19, the class not only continued but expanded. Faced with COVID-19 restrictions on family presence, mothers joined the class for safe social connection, and through the use of an online platform, even parents at home were able to participate.


Having a premature infant in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) can cause significant stress for the family. Fathers of infants sometimes feel as though the medical team focuses on mothers, even though fathers also experience stress, anxiety, and feelings of helplessness (Hollywood & Hollywood, 2011). This feeling of stress occurs not just in the hospital, but once the infant has been discharged as well. Both mothers and fathers typically experience stress both in and after leaving the NICU; however, cortisol levels of fathers do not decrease as quickly as those of mothers (Garfield et al., 2018). As a result, fathers' stress levels remain elevated for a longer period than mothers. Fathers have expressed a desire to network with other fathers to receive social support while their infants are in the NICU (Noergaard et al., 2017).

However, many groups and support services offered for families in the NICU are geared to mothers. Often, these activities include scrapbooking or lactation support groups. Although open to any parent who wants to attend, the majority of participants are female. There are few, if any, groups geared specifically toward men (Fisher et al., 2018).

Although support for all NICU parents is crucial – mothers, fathers, and also parents who identify outside the traditional binary gender roles – this article focuses on support for fathers, a large group whose needs have not been met. Opportunities are needed for peer-to-peer support with other fathers who are in similar circumstances. Motivated by this unmet need, the music therapist at University of California San Francisco (UCSF) Benioff Children's Hospital developed a ukulele class for fathers in the intensive care nursery (ICN).