The Father Factor

Before the Baby > Involving Dads in Maternal Child Health

Posted by Ave Mulhern

Most Recent Fatherhood Posts

Oct 1, 2019

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At a recent conference on Maternal Health and Infant Mortality, a new concept was presented—a good concept I might add—as it asked health care providers to ask women of child bearing age about their plans to become pregnant in the future. For example, at an annual well woman visit, the provider would ask if in the upcoming year the woman is planning a pregnancy. If the answer was no and the woman did not plan a pregnancy in the near future, the health care provider might discuss various birth control options and also go over some steps to prepare for a healthy pregnancy if in her future plans.

If the answer was yes, the provider would proactively discuss a series of 11 topics and make suggestions that would help the woman have a healthier pregnancy and ultimately deliver a healthy child. That, of course would be the goal. It is a good and proactive step in increasing the health of both the mother and the child. But there was something in particular that captured my attention about this list.

Here are the 11 topics the provider would go over with the woman and in this order:
  1. Pregnancy Intention
  2. Maintaining a Healthy Weight
  3. Substance Use
  4. A Daily Vitamin (with Folic Acid)
  5. Medications You’re Taking
  6. Chronic Conditions
  7. Mental Health
  8. Healthy Relationships
  9. Vaccinations
  10. Environmental Hazards
  11. Health Screenings

What captured my attention was that the healthy relationship question was 8th in the order of the 11 questions. Based on what we know about the importance of father involvement, the first question to ask after determining pregnancy intention should be the healthy relationship question. What is the relationship with the father or potential father? Is the woman in a committed, healthy, preferably a married relationship with father or father-to-be? Statistically, children do better overall in that kind of setting so why would we rank that question as less important than maintaining a healthy weight?

With all the data we have on hand around the importance of father involvement to children, it’s critical to educate women on the value and importance that the relationship with the father can bring to her and the child, with an emphasis on a healthy relationship! 

A recent article from the National Institute for Children’s Health Quality (NICHQ), Fathers: Powerful Allies for Maternal and Child Health shares good information and research on the impact, the positive impact fathers have on maternal and child health. It states, “Maternal and child health programs and professionals have become increasingly more cognizant of how fathers, specifically, affect their children’s health and development,”… “Moving this conversation forward, and highlighting strategies that support father engagement and involvement, is a critical opportunity to improve children’s health outcomes in the decades to come.”

The article discusses some of the significant barriers that fathers still face and provides links to some creative partnerships to help promote father engagement. As we learned from the research, fathers may not be aware of the impact they have on their child, and for those that do know their importance, they still may face societal and institutional barriers, or even barriers from the mom.

The article continues that we need to empower fathers as advocates for their children’s health: “I think many fathers know they’re important and their presence matters,” says Berns. NICHQ President and CEO, “But we should do more to impress upon them just how big of a difference they make—not that they are just a supportive addition but that their actions and attitudes really will affect the lifelong health of their children. Intentionally talking to fathers about their impact and what they can do at every stage of their children’s lives will empower them as champions for children’s health and well-being.”

The article also has some great links to the research surrounding this including the importance of paternity leave. In fact, through a partnership with Dove Men+Care, NFI recently hosted a free webinar on that very topic!  To view the recording, click here.

NFI will continue to work with organizations and agencies across the US educating and equipping them to engage fathers, early and often in the lives of their children. If you are looking to improve your organization’s ability to engage fathers, NFI has resources, training and support to help you help families thrive into the next generation.

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Topics: Featured, General Fatherhood Research & Studies

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