19/07/2016 11:26 AM AEST | Updated 20/07/2016 9:26 PM AEST

Dads Equal Mums' Depression Rates After Premature Baby

Dads are torn between caring for mum and their baby.

Dads of premature babies are just as likely to get depression as mums.
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Dads of premature babies are just as likely to get depression as mums.

No parent should have to go through a 'code blue' in the neonatal intensive care unit.

This is the ward where incredibly premature babies rest, sometimes in humidicribs. Sometimes with machines breathing for them. And a code blue means one of these fragile lives is ceasing to exist.

Radford White gets a lump in his throat when he talks about the times his twins Rupert and Maisie triggered a code blue.

"I look at them now, and they're three, racing around on their balance bikes but I remember the days I had to coax them into taking another breath," White told HuffPost Australia.

"They'd stop breathing or their heart would stop and you'd be standing there saying 'C'mon Rupie, take a breath'. It was a feeling of total helplessness.

"In the NICU, you can't look forward to the next minute let alone the next hour and what you've seen stays with you forever. It changes you."

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Caring for a premature baby can be difficult.

The parents of babies born at 30 weeks or less (40 weeks is considered normal) go through the unimaginable and a new study shows it takes its toll in the form of depression.

What's unexpected is that depression rates for mums and dads are the same, with more than one third of parents experiencing symptoms of depression that persist six months after the birth.

Murdoch Children's Research Institute doctor Carmen Pace told HuffPost Australia there hadn't been much research done on dads.

"Anecdotally I think it makes sense that fathers are just as distressed as mums," Pace told HuffPost Australia.

"They have the shared experience and concerns and fathers do also have quite specific tasks.

"A lot of dads feel really torn, they're not sure who's bedside to be at -- their partner or their baby."

Depression Symptoms In Parents Of Preterm Babies

Shortly after birth:

Mothers: 40 per cent vs 6 per cent of full-term babies

Fathers: 36 per cent vs 5 per cent

And at six months

Mothers: 14 per cent vs 5 per cent

Fathers: 19 per cent vs 6 per cent

Anxiety Symptoms In Parents Of Preterm Babies

Shortly after birth:

Mothers: 48 per cent vs 13 per cent

Fathers: 47 per cent vs 10 per cent

And at six months:

Mothers: 25 per cent vs 14 per cent

Fathers: 20 per cent vs 10 per cent

White said he knew the feeling. After being told that Rupert had developed a condition in utero that could be fatal, they had no time to prepare for their arrival.

"I got the call at about 11am at work. I left my cuppa tea on the desk and went straight to the hospital," White said.

"We were told he could go at any time."

The next day, his wife Kirsten had a caesarean section and Rupert and Maisie were born at 29 weeks and surprisingly, Rupert was doing well but Maisie was struggling.

"The twins were each on their beds with about 10 people working on each of them and I was standing between them," White said.

"I had this primal urge to push everyone away and get my children and cuddle them. I never would have expected that primal response. It was overwhelming.

"Kirsten was upstairs recovering and I wanted to see her but I felt I just had to stay with the twins."

Radford White with wife Kirsten and their twins, Rupert and Maisie, who are now healthy 3-year-olds.

The twins were in NICU for 14 weeks and during that time, he and Kirsten had an exhaustive schedule of waking early, rushing to the hospital, then Radford would go to work, and return for his lunchbreak, then after work, Kirsten would go home and Radford would stay until 11pm at night.

"I just felt there was no priority greater than them," White said.

"If I was at the gym and got the call that one of them hadn't made it, I would have never forgiven myself."

Pace said her research showed this sense of anxiety stuck with parents for more than six months.

"The findings demonstrate fathers need as much support as the mothers and it's important that families don't just drop off the radar when they go home," Pace said.

"If we can intervene and help parents' wellbeing, that's also going to have a positive outcome on the children."

Radford White is fundraising for the Royal Women's Hospital Newborn Intensive Care Unit Dads' Group by growing a beard between Australia Day and Father's Day.