How can fathers play a bigger role in pregnancy and childbirth?

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Fathers are more keen than ever to be involved with their babies around the time of birth but, despite a government push to engage men more fully in their children's lives, this "golden opportunity" to include them is often lost, with many men ignored or sidelined in ante- and postnatal care.

... a growing body of evidence is making it clear that fathers who are engaged in pregnancy and birth are more likely to remain engaged in their children's lives. Secondly, the roundtable heard, because mothers' levels of satisfaction with their care in childbirth is affected to some extent by how well their partner was treated by the midwife. As one participant put it: "Respecting women matters and you don't respect a woman if you don't respect her man." Thirdly, because fathers provided not only welcome but also extremely effective support to new mothers, especially in the postnatal period. That support could be invaluable, the roundtable was told, not only to the new mother and her baby, but also to the hard-pressed midwifery services.

... Antenatal care focused very much on the birth and pain relief options, which were mostly about the mother-to-be's physical experience, rather than about issues around caring for the baby once he or she arrived, which would engage and include the father equally.

This can be a function of the current model of care in hospital which focuses on getting as many women through the system as possible, but not necessarily meeting every woman's informational and emotional needs. Families seeking private midwifery care will find that with hour-long appointments and structures childbirth education throughout pregnancy, both the Mum and dad feel well-prepared for both birth and baby care.

And at the delivery itself, men were being seen as merely low-grade supporters when they in fact had huge emotional needs of their own, which were going unnoticed. At the birth, as one participant said, "fathers are expected to provide a bit of massage or to fetch glasses of water when in reality this is a moment of enormous emotional watershed for them". If their needs were being unmet, they were less likely to feel valued in the whole process of bringing a new child into the world. "Fathers are looking for ways in, but they are experiencing feelings of detachment, or are being treated as little more than onlookers," said another contributor. "Birth is a critical turning-point, a time when they can feel and properly appreciate that they have a baby for the first time."

... One contributor pointed out that there was a tendency for the maternity services in general to be rule-bound and risk-averse, which could militate against changes such as allowing both parents to stay with their new baby overnight, a practice known as "rooming-in" ...

Certainly, there is much scope to involve fathers more fully in the birth of their children, in the pregnancy care and also in the postnatal care.

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