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The Father Factor

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Are you a New Dad? Tell Us Your Thoughts Today!

We're excited to partner with the fine folks over at What To Expect, the experts on all things mom and pregnancy. We are conducting a survey about pregnancy and baby's first year. We've heard from the moms, now we want to hear from the dads!

WTENFISurveyIf you're a new dad or dad-to-be, please take a moment to respond to a few questions. All of the opinions will be revealed soon in brand new infographic in partnership with the wonderful folks over at What to Expect. Don't worry, dads, we won't use names or faces for with your honest answers!

Questions on the survey range from number of children to asking about thoughts to questions like—well—we can't say too much or we'll mess up the survey. Just go take it, please! 

5 Ways Fathers Can Use Science and Nature to Bond with Their Children

The following is a post from Christopher A. Brown, Executive Vice President of National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI). Interested in blogging for us? Email here.

The connection between nature and mothers is pretty obvious. From the moment of conception, mothers are inextricably, biologically linked to their children. Mothers’ hormone levels continually fluctuate during pregnancy as their bodies partner with nature to give their children the ultimate environment in which to grow. This connection continues when mothers breastfeed as their bodies release oxytocin, the “bonding hormone,” thus providing a way for mothers’ biological connection to their children to continue well after birth.  

5 ways fathers can   the male brainBut what about fathers? Science now reveals that mothers don’t have the market cornered when it comes to being biologically connected to their children. Nature also provides a way for men to prepare for the arrival of their children and to bond with them well after birth. In her ground-breaking book The Male Brain, neuropsychologist Louann Brizedene points out that men’s hormone levels change during the pregnancy of their partners. Specifically, men’s levels of cortisol (the “stress hormone”) increase. This change puts men’s brains on “alert” for the arrival of their babies. In contrast, men’s levels of testosterone (the “wandering hormone”) decrease. This change lowers their competiveness, aggression, and sex drive.  

After their children are born, men’s oxytocin and prolactin levels increase with their prolactin levels falling to “pre-arrival” levels only after their babies start to walk (12 to 16 months, on average). Prolactin further decreases men’s testosterone levels. Researchers in Israel took this knowledge a step further when they measured oxytocin levels in 80 first-time parent couples shortly after the birth of their children. They found that fathers’ oxytocin levels were just as high as mothers’ when their children were 6 weeks and 6 months, suggesting that fathers’ hormone levels “dance” in harmony with mothers’.  

But they didn’t stop there. The researchers also observed how the increased bonding driven by high levels of oxytocin affected the way that fathers and mothers play with their children. What they found is that higher levels of oxytocin do not equate with the same kinds of parenting behaviors. Indeed, it seems to enhance the unique ways in which mothers and fathers play with their children which, as research shows, benefits children. The researchers discovered that when they compared mothers’ oxytocin levels that those with higher levels exhibited the most "affectionate parenting behaviors." When they compared fathers’ levels they found that those with the highest levels exhibited the most "stimulatory parenting behaviors."  

What’s the kicker? For all of these changes to occur, fathers have to be involved during mothers’ pregnancies and after the birth of their children. They have to view nature as their partner by engaging in activities that create close physical and emotional connections with mothers during pregnancy and with mothers and their children after their children are born. Here are 5 ways that a father can do just that:  

  1. Live with the mother. This advice might seem painfully obvious, but in today’s world of increasing out-of-wedlock childbirths (now at a record level) the chances of fathers not being around are all too real. The best way for a father to ensure constant physical proximity is to be married to the mother of his children.
  2. Spend as much time with the mother as possible. This advice might also seem painfully obvious, but one of the reasons time together is so important is that the exchange of pheromones between a father and mother during and after pregnancy might contribute to the father’s hormonal changes. This exchange can only happen when the father and mother are around each other on a consistent basis.
  3. Prepare to be a dad. During the pregnancy, a father should deepen his involvement in the pregnancy by reading books about becoming a dad and what it takes to be a great dad, attending as many of the mother’s prenatal visits as possible to support her, and enrolling, with the mother, in childbirth education classes.
  4. Encourage the mother to breastfeed. A father should encourage the mother to breastfeed while she is still pregnant. Breastfeeding will help the mother and baby to bond and benefit them in many other ways. A father can be involved in this effort by helping the mother to freeze her breast milk. He can warm it and feed it to his child in the middle of the night to allow the mother to catch some extra, needed sleep and, in doing so, further bond with his child.  
  5. Attend well-child check-ups and use NFI’s Countdown to Growing Up™. A father can deepen his involvement after the birth by attending well-child check-ups. A father can track his child’s development from birth to age 18 with NFI’s free Countdown to Growing Up™ child growth and development tracker. A father enters his child’s age and gender and the tool generates a chart of physical, mental, and social milestones appropriate for his child. He can use this information to more effectively dialogue with the mother and his child’s doctor about his child’s growth and development. NFI also has a number of free articles with advice on how to be a new dad and a great dad.

Connect with The Father Factor by RSSFacebook and on Twitter @TheFatherFactor. 

image: istockphoto

March of Dimes’ Big Miss

small 107729240Very good news was just released about the United States’ preterm birthrate: in 2011, for the fifth consecutive year, it decreased. The rate now stands at a 10-year low of 11.7%.

This news was rightfully celebrated by the organization that is probably the single biggest advocate for maternal and infant health in the U.S., March of Dimes. That admirable organization has set a goal of a 9.6% rate by 2020.

We sincerely hope and pray that the goal is met.

However (you knew a “however” was coming), we at National Fatherhood Initiative believe that March of Dimes is missing an enormous opportunity to reach and surpass the goal they have set. As far as we can see, they are doing little to nothing to acknowledge or encourage the role that involved fathers play in maternal and child health.

Before I say more, I will take this opportunity to inundate you with data, because there is so much research out there that shows, unequivocally, that father involvement matters to maternal and child health.

In a landmark study conducted by the University of South Florida and published in the Journal of Community and Family Health in 2010, researchers examined the records of all births in Florida from 1998 to 2005 – more than 1.39 million live births. They found the following:

  • Infants with absent fathers were more likely to be born with lower birth weights, to be preterm and small for gestational age.
  • Regardless of race or ethnicity, the neonatal death rate of father-absent infants was nearly four times that of their counterparts with involved fathers.
  • The risk of poor birth outcomes was highest for infants born to black women whose babies’ fathers were absent during their pregnancies. Even after adjusting for socioeconomic differences, these babies were seven times more likely to die in infancy than babies born to Hispanic and white women in the same situation.
  • Obstetric complications contributing to premature births, such as anemia, chronic high blood pressure, eclampsia and placental abruption, were more prevalent among women whose babies’ fathers were absent during pregnancy.
  • Expectant mothers in the father-absent group tended to be younger, more educated, more likely to never have given birth, more likely to be black, and had a higher percentage of risk factors like smoking and inadequate prenatal care than mothers in the father-involved group.

If that data is not enough to convince you that March of Dimes should do more to engage fathers, here’s more:

  • Infant mortality rates are 1.8 times higher for infants of unmarried mothers than for married mothers. 1
  • High-quality interaction by any type of father predicts better infant health.2
  • Children living with their married biological or adoptive parents have better access to health care than children living in any other family type.3
  • Premature infants who have increased visits from their fathers during hospitalization have improved weight gain and score higher on developmental tests.4
  • When fathers are involved during the pregnancy, babies have fewer complications at birth.5
  • Babies with a father’s name on the birth certificate are 4 times more likely to live past 1 year of age.6
  • Twenty-three percent of unmarried mothers in large U.S. cities reported cigarette use during their pregnancy. Seventy-one percent were on Medicare.7

Given the powerful case that the research makes, it is critical that every entity working to improve maternal and child health invests in increasing father involvement. All indications are that March of Dimes is not doing this in any noticeable or significant way.

A legitimate question at this point is, “How do you increase father involvement in maternal and child health?” There are three broad categories:

  • Awareness – The first step is to ensure that the public is aware of the data that we provided above. Do you think most people understand the central role fathers play in this area? March of Dimes is positioned better than any other organization in the country to make a big deal out of how important dads are to maternal and child health. By simply listing this sort of research on their website and talking about father involvement as a factor in determining the preterm birthrate, they can have a great deal of influence. In the USA Today article from 11/13/12 in which I found out about this news, March of Dimes spokespeople cited things like access to prenatal care and reduced smoking during pregnancy as critical to preventing premature births, but nothing about involved dads.
  • Research – Given what we know from the above research, and given the continued emphasis on research into why preterm births happen, more research dollars should be dedicated to understanding why fathers play such an important role, and then, how we can get them more involved from the start. Based on their website, it appears that none of March of Dimes’ research grant recipients are studying father involvement.
  • Skill-building – Finally, every entity that interacts with pregnant moms (hospitals, birthing centers, Lamaze classes, nurse home visits, etc.) should be encouraged and equipped to provide fathers with inspiration and education about the importance of their role. Many fathers are afraid to get involved in pregnancy and infants’ lives because they fear that their lack of parenting skills will hurt more than help. We need to collectively disavow fathers of this notion by providing them with high quality skill-building materials to increase their health literacy and get them in the game. Again, it does not appear March of Dimes is doing anything on this front.

small 3233086359There is a concept called the “tipping point” that can be described as follows: “that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.”8 We believe that for reductions in the preterm birthrate to reach a tipping point, increasing father involvement needs to become an important part of the noble efforts currently underway. Otherwise, there is a very strong possibility of the reductions plateauing and lots of very smart people wringing their hands about why they can’t get the needle to shift further.

Let’s work together to encourage March of Dimes to pay more attention to the father factor in maternal and child health Here’s how. Contact March of Dimes to praise them for their great work, but to also encourage them to take the next step by acknowledging, celebrating, and encouraging the central role that fathers play in determining the preterm birthrate.

  • Ask them a question about their research here. For example, you can ask “What are you doing to investigate the role that father involvement plays in reducing preterm births?”
  • Comment on their Facebook wall. For example, you can say, “Research shows that father involvement is a key to reducing the preterm birthrate. What is March of Dimes doing to encourage father involvement?” Share with them the research we provide in this post, and tell them that father involvement during the prenatal period is key to reaching a tipping point in their effort. Encourage them to work with NFI.
  • Tweet about the father factor in maternal and child health and tag March of Dimes. For example, you can tweet, “There's a father factor in preterm birthrate. Data here: http://bit.ly/nfiblogdimes112612. What is @MarchofDimes doing to encourage father involvement?”

Collectively, we can help a great organization reach a very important goal by speaking up for dads and the important role they play in nurturing healthy moms and babies.

Endnotes:
1. Matthews, T.J., Sally C. Curtin, and Marian F. MacDorman. Infant Mortality Statistics from the 1998 Period Linked Birth/Infant Death Data Set. National Vital Statistics Reports, Vol. 48, No. 12. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics, 2000.
2. Carr, D. & Springer, K. W. Advances in families and health research in the 21st century. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72, 743-761 (2010).
3. Gorman, B. G., & Braverman, K. Family structure differences in health care utilization among U.S. children. Social Science and Medicine, 67, 1766–1775 (2008).
4. Coleman WL, Garfield CF, and the Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health. “Fathers and Pediatricians: Enhancing Men’s Roles in the Care and Development of their Children”. American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement, Pediatrics, May, 2004.
5. Alio, A.P., Mbah, A.K., Kornosky, J.L., Marty, P.J. & Salihu, H.M. "The Impact of Paternal Involvement on Feto-Infant Morbidity among Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics". Matern Child Health J. 2010; 14(5): 735-41.
6. Ibid.
7. McLanahan, Sara. The Fragile Families and Child Well-being Study: Baseline National Report. Table 7. Princeton, NJ: Center for Research on Child Well-being, 2003: 16.
8. http://www.amazon.com/Tipping-Point-Little-Things-Difference/dp/0316346624

photo credit: bies via photopin cc

photo credit: Martin Gommel via photopin cc

Waiting for Fatherhood

The following is a post from Tony Prebula, Administrative Coordinator, Marketing and Communications at National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI). If you would like to blog for us, email here.

Back when I joined NFI, I blogged about the lessons passed down from my grandfather. And I enjoyed being able to share the hope and excitement my wife and I had for having a family of our own one day.

It has been 7 months since then, and over a year since we started trying to have children. We’ve experienced loss, pain, disappointment, and at times despair. On more than one occasion over the last year, my wife and I have lost a child.

waiting for fatherhood baby cribFor the longest time I’ve imagined what it would feel like to hold my child with the hopes of the kind of person they would grow up to be. I imagine teaching them to ride a bike. Maybe even what the first fishing trip would be like. I imagine teaching my son how to honor his mother and all women. Or showing my daughter how she should be loved and respected in how I love my wife. I imagine being able to tell my children how proud I am for the kind of people they are. I don’t stop imagining these things. I remain hopeful, but it can get tough. 

You see, as I get ready to head home tonight after work, I have already planned to spend the evening doing one of my favorite things—brewing beer. It’s a hobby I picked up when I lived in a townhouse with no cable or internet. I’ll have fun tonight. But all the while I will be thinking to myself, “What if”. I will be wondering what if my child were here. Instead of spending the night in the kitchen brewing, I could be putting together a crib. Instead of a quiet night waiting for my wife to get home from working late, maybe I would be giving my baby a bath. The hardest part is not their absence; rather it is in thinking of all the moments we will never have with them. To quote John Greenleaf Whitter, “For all the sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: ‘What might have been’”.

In trying to sort through the emotions of the past few months, I’ve tried to put into words (probably for some healing or comfort) why it has been so difficult to find peace with it all. Strangely enough, I haven’t found any new insight to make it easier. I haven’t found enlightened peace. No, nothing like that. But what I am reminded of is the precious joy that family and children are.

My wife and I have been able to remember that no matter how hard we may try, we can’t just make children happen. Children are not given simply because you want to have them. No, children are gifts to be cherished.

I am so happy to work for an organization that recognizes children are indeed a gift to be cherished.  And that part of this cherishing is to ensure that they have involved, responsible, and committed fathers.  

In grieving, somewhat selfishly, for our loss, we are consoled knowing that our children are in a better place than we could have ever hoped to give them. And as my wife and I continue to wait and see what lies ahead for us, I know the gift will be that much sweeter. I can’t imagine how blessed I will feel when the day finally arrives. And I only hope that when it does that my children will know how much of a gift they are to me. 

Tony is a graduate of the University of Maryland. He and his wife, Lacy, met at Maryland and were married in 2011. In his spare time, you will find Tony rock climbing, cooking and homebrewing.
 
Connect with The Father Factor by RSSFacebook and on Twitter @TheFatherFactor

photo credit: Jug Jones

The Intended Consequences of an Old Spaniard

A few days ago, I asked my father-in-law how he met his wife. He told me that he was in the Air Force stationed in San Antonio and a buddy invited him to go to dance. His wife, who was in nursing school, attended the dance as well along with some of her friends. He saw her. They danced. They talked. And, he was smitten instantly and they started dating.

He also offered that soon thereafter she finished nursing school and moved back home to live with her parents in a little south Texas town called Mission. Since he was still stationed in San Antonio, he would make the long ride to see her every weekend that he could. Well, after a few trips to her home, he received a long letter from her father, who he called, “the Old Spaniard.” Interestingly, the letter was written in Castilian, which is formal Spanish and, although my father-in-law was fluent in Spanish, he needed help to translate it. In any case, he told me that the letter—despite its length—asked him a simple question: “What are your intentions with my daughter?”

He told me that he was not surprised by the question and, actually, he expected to be asked it at some point. Therefore, he knew that he needed to answer this important question well and quickly if he was to continue to see his beloved. So, on his next trip to Mission, he was on a “mission,” and he sat down with the Old Spaniard and told him that he planned to marry his daughter. And, he did.

Since this conversation with my father-in-law, I have thought often about the power and the purpose of the Old Spaniard’s question and how it forced my father-in-law to be publicly accountable for his intentions. The Old Spaniard wanted to make sure early that my father-in-law didn’t think that his daughter was an “amusement park” and he had a free ticket to ride. Nope, there were not going to be any “unintended consequences” because admission to his daughter’s heart came with a specific price the needed to be paid in advance.

Sadly, today too many fathers aren’t “Old Spaniards” and I believe that their daughters and their sons are worse off for it. Consequently, if you ask dating couples about their relationships and intentions, they tend to use terms like we’re “hanging out,” “chillin,” or “just kickin’ it.” Or, they will say that “we are just friends with benefits.” One of the problems is that these “benefits” too often turn into children who need good parents with firm intentions about raising them. Just imagine how few unintended pregnancies and unloved children there would be if more fathers asked the simple question that the Old Spaniard did.

Case and point, a few years ago, I counseled a couple who had gotten pregnant as college seniors. They were having big problems because the father was essentially abandoning his responsibilities and moving on with his life, while the mother was at risk to not graduate. Not surprisingly, the mother was furious.

As I began having conversations with them separately, it quickly became apparent that there was not, and never been, an Old Spaniard involved. You see, they were having premarital sex. However, she always believed that the father was the kind of guy who would marry her and build a family if they got pregnant, but this was never his intention. And, he thought that she was the kind of girl who would quickly get an abortion if she got pregnant, but this was never her intention. Now, they were both in a difficult long-term parenting relationship that neither wanted--whether they intended to have it or not.

Don't Fumble the Baby...

Last week, I had an opportunity to speak at a briefing hosted by Congressman Danny Davis (D-IL). The purpose of the briefing was to present these findings of the Commission on Paternal Involvement in Pregnancy Outcomes, a project of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. A key aspect of the commission is to determine ways to reduce infant mortality, which is surprisingly high in the US.

As a member of the commission, I had an opportunity to share a pretty personal perspective on how, as a very new dad, I first learned just how important fathers are to the health and well-being of infants. A reporter wrote this story about my remarks. Are you ready for some football?

Going "Gaga" about Sex

I came across this interesting article about Lady Gaga’s pledge to be celibate and, although I am not supportive of everything that is Lady Gaga, I have to applaud her courage to take a public stand on such a controversial topic.

Interestingly, not only has she chosen this lifestyle for herself but she is also encouraging her fans to do so as well. In a recent interview she said, “So it's OK not to have sex, it's OK to get to know people. I'm celibate, celibacy's fine." Wow.

And, Lady Gaga is not the only “sex symbol” that is speaking out about a “better way” in our oversexed culture. Check out what Rachel Welch recently said during an interview about her new tell-all book, “Beyond the Cleavage”:

“Sex is being held up for the new generation as the be all and end all. It's supposed to be an expression of your regard for someone. It's in our faces every waking minute. We worship sex, but for most people it doesn't take that long. It has its place, but it's just too prevalent. I know I sound like a prude, but can't we have cheerleaders that don't do spread eagle and grinding? Britney Spears would remember that she was a lot more happening when she wasn't pushing it. I did some of it myself and at some point it wasn't productive.”


Even some folks on college campuses, which are one of the most active breeding grounds for the “hook up” culture, are getting into the act. For example, a group of students at Princeton University launched an organization called “The Anscombe Society” that is lobbying the university to establish a Center for Abstinence and Chastity to better support students who chose to “buck the trend” and be celibate.

Given the growth that we have seen in recent years in STIs, unplanned pregnancies and father absence, this vocal support is none to soon. But it seems to me that there is something else going on here. Indeed, Lady Gaga, Welsh and these Princeton undergraduates are remembering a lesson that many in our culture have long, and conveniently, forgotten. Specifically, sex is not just a physical act but it is also imbued with emotional, relational and spiritual aspects as well. And, physical and pharmaceutical barriers, while they may prevent pregnancy, etc., they don’t protect one’s heart, emotions and soul like chastity can. I think Lady Gaga said it best when she exclaimed, “Even Lady Gaga can be celibate…you don’t have to have sex to be loved.” Words both accurate and worth going “gaga” over…

Becoming a Dad!

Here in my 8th year at National Fatherhood Initiative, I am on the verge of becoming a dad for the first time. My wife, Claudia, and I are expecting our first baby any day now. Perhaps any hour now! Just this morning, my wife was having contractions. They do not appear to be the "real thing," but a definite pre-cursor to the big moment.

I will do my best to chronicle my experiences of becoming a dad here on The Father Factor.

In this post, I wanted to point out something that I had heard about in the abstract for many years, but now know to be true -- it is difficult for expectant fathers to feel connected to their coming baby. In the least, it is much more difficult for fathers than it is for mothers.

Even now, when we are probably hours or a few days away from having the baby, it still feels very abstract to me. I have read books, designed and decorated the nursery, gone through exercises and videos, seen the baby on several ultrasounds, but I know that this is not really going to hit me until the moment the baby comes out and is handed to me and my wife.

That, from what I have heard from other dads, is when the light switch flips on and you really know you are a dad.

In the meantime, I think my favorite activity during the pregnancy (aside from seeing the ultrasounds) was decorating the nursery. I hung a chair rail and, with my dad's help, put up a mural of a Beatrix Potter-inspired scene. Here is a picture:


Stay tuned - it is likely my next post will be from the hospital right after the birth!

Bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh...

I received the below note from a friend who just became a father:

“I gotta say I first really felt like a father when I was holding her after she was born...she looked up at me and something inside me turned on, that I'd never felt.”

Powerful stuff indeed… Interestingly, I had a similar experience when the nurse put my first son, Jamin, in my arms. I was just 20 years old and, admittedly, a bit scared. I was clearly more comfortable on a football field than in a delivery room, and more comfortable with a football in my arms than a baby.

But when they handed Jamin to me, something in me just…clicked…like a light switch. When he looked up at me I said to myself, “Wow…this is my son.” Bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. Fatherhood changes everything.

I also remember feeling that I was grossly unprepared for my new role, especially since I grew up without my dad. Sure, I had attended LaMaze classes and a few prenatal doctor visits, and read selected pages from my wife’s “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” book. But none of these things really spoke to me or seemed to be for me. And it seemed that my feeling and experience were not unique. In our Pop's Culture Survey, we found that nearly ½ of the fathers surveyed reported that they were not prepared to be fathers when they first became one.

That’s one of the reasons that when I joined NFI 8 years ago, I championed our efforts to develop resources like “Doctor Dad™,” “When Duct Tape Won’t Work™,” and “Daddy Packs for New Dads™” to equip dads right from the start. Unlike me, fathers need to walk into the delivery room with more than just a bit of anxiety and a checkbook and need to walk out of the delivery room with more than just the bill and the baby.

In any case, got a story about becoming a dad for the first time? I’d love to hear it. Also, if you are about to become a father and want to share about what is going on or if you’re a mom and want to tell about how becoming a dad affected the father of your children, chime in as well.

A Father-to-be's Lullaby

My wife is due with our first baby in January. We are excited, to say the least.

NFI's president, Roland Warren, is fond of saying that, during the mom's pregnancy, "Fathers need to 'birth their child in their mind.'" While my wife goes through all of these dramatic physical changes and feels the baby move and kick, I have to find more creative ways to prepare for my baby's birth.

One method that I have found to be very helpful is to play music at night for the baby. The baby is at a stage of development where he/she can hear what is happening outside the womb. Our CD of choice has been an album that National Fatherhood Initiative recognized at the 2003 Fatherhood Awards Gala - Golden Slumbers: A Father's Lullaby.

Brothers Dave and Jeff Koz created the album as a tribute to new dads and to give them a way to bond with their newborns - and help them sleep! Well, it has worked great for this father-to-be, as well.

NFI gave Dave and Jeff a Fatherhood Award for their work on this special album, and now it is helping me bond with my soon-to-be-born baby. If you have an infant or a pregnant wife, I highly recommend this CD!

Does anyone have ideas to share about bonding with your baby during pregnancy?

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