Skin-to-skin contact can help parents bond with their new baby
Neonatal units looking after premature babies need redesigning to put parents at the heart of care, say campaigners.
Parents' needs can get overlooked as the medical needs of the babies are the main priority for staff, Bliss and the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) found.
They are asking health workers to put themselves "in the shoes" of parents.
Part of the problem, they say, is a lack of family-friendly facilities, like designated rooms on units for parents or play areas for siblings.
A survey of UK neonatal units by investigators from the University of Warwick found one in 10 units did not have a parents' sitting room close to clinical areas where the babies were being cared for.
A quarter of units had no single rooms for babies in which families could care for their newborn while preparing for discharge home.
Few had playrooms or areas for siblings and there were also important gaps in psychosocial support services for parents.
Only half of the units had a parents' group and only a third had a one-to-one parent support scheme.
And few had policies on proven beneficial ways to involve families in care, including opportunities for parents to have skin-to-skin contact with their newborn.
Parents say they value being given consistent, clear information about the unit and caring for their baby, as well as receiving emotional advice.
Bliss chief executive Andy Cole said: "While babies are the main priority for health professionals in a neonatal unit, it is extremely important not to forget the needs of parents and the positive impact that they can have on the care of their baby too.
"This project highlights the importance of effective communication and support for families and that services both in hospital and at home should take full account of their individual needs at what can be a very uncertain and stressful time.
"Parents must feel confident and supported to provide the best possible care to their vulnerable baby."
Professor David Field, president of the British Association of Perinatal Medicine, said: "This is a very important piece of work in highlighting the needs of parents who have a baby requiring neonatal care.
"These needs are easily forgotten when so much focus is on the baby."
The lottery-funded POPPY Project (Parents of Premature babies Project), run by Bliss, the NCT, the Royal College of Nursing Research and the National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit at Oxford University, will send out a range of materials to help units implement family-centred care.