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Calls to increase support for expecting and new dads

Calls to increase support for expecting and new da
Photo: Calls to increase support for expecting and new dads
Imagine a world where all fathers are involved and supportive during pregnancy, allowing optimum foetal growth and development and maternal satisfaction.

Imagine if men were prepared by a positive cultural awareness of their inherent  value in perinatal care. 

Imagine if fathers spoke about birth between themselves, giving each other advice and support on how best to navigate the transition to fatherhood. 

This is the reality Steven Kennedy, founder of Birthing Dads, would like to see in the near future.

To achieve this, broader education is required for everyone involved in the childbirth process, namely men themselves, as well as key health providers, such as midwives and obstetricians, says Mr Kennedy.

“Health professionals don't get enough practice working with and engaging men.
“Men don't routinely seek help - particularly and specifically when it comes to childbirth because they don't necessarily have the language or societal permission to engage in a deeper and more meaningful way.”

Research shows engaging fathers during pregnancy and encouraging their involvement in preparation for birth leads to better perinatal outcomes.

“Paternal support during pregnancy, birth and early parenting is fundamental to family well-being,” says Mr Kennedy.

“Fathers who understand that pregnancy is an emotional rollercoaster, and physically exhausting, can make a real difference by sensitively supporting the pregnant person.

“A sensitive and helpful father can significantly improve perinatal health by supporting breastfeeding, and their attitude towards their partner at this time can also improve mental health outcomes for new mothers.”

But their ability to support partners isn’t the only reason society must change its perception of, and increase its focus on, new dads.

“Many studies support the general statement that - men find birth a challenging experience.

“It’s really quite sad for men that they are expected to jump in and support birth, often as the primary support person, without ever having been trained or guided on how to provide that support. 

“Because fathers are not given targeted resources to prepare them for the experience of birth they suffer. It is a difficult thing to witness for many men – especially when the mother or baby are at risk.”

Despite the fact that 10 per cent of fathers will experience postnatal depression, Mr Kennedy says there is little societal recognition of this.  In fact, a 2019 Movember study found that 45 per cent of men didn’t even know that fathers can also suffer postnatal depression.

The challenges faced by fathers in the perinatal period not only harms fathers and families, but results in society wide negative impacts, says Mr Kennedy. These challenges may include:
  • 20 per cent of men identify as feeling isolated following the birth of their child - this number goes up to 40 per cent in the 18 to 35 age group.
  • Domestic violence is known to be more prevalent during the perinatal period.
  • Substance abuse and risky behaviour also goes up in some new fathers (particularly after a traumatic births).
  • Relationship breakdown – 92 per cent of couples report increased conflict during the perinatal period.
“Fathers’ feelings and experiences around the perinatal period are routinely neglected, even by fathers themselves,” says Mr Kennedy.

“Society also neglects father's feelings.

“If birth has been traumatic, many fathers report an assumption or the expectation that their partner had it worse and to just suck it up.  This occurs when partners experience loss as well. 

“This lack of support for men perpetuates the negative masculine stereotype that men must be stoic and emotionless no matter what happens.  These feelings are suppressed and may bubble to the surface at a later time, as one of the negative impacts listed above.”

To achieve real change, Mr Kennedy says we need targeted resources that meet the needs of the modern father. 

“Basic information about what it's going to be like to experience birth and how he can be of most assistance.

“It would be great if one day hospitals had a charge code for expectant fathers when they accompany and support their partner through the process of labour.

“Many fathers report being overwhelmed and we’re still not strategically engaging them.”

This is why Birthing Dads has creating the Birthing Dads Advance Program, the world’s most comprehensive resource of its kind for expectant fathers.

Birthing Dads interviewed 16 perinatal experts including obstetricians, midwives, academics, authors, and new fathers to create the program, designed to revolutionise childbirth and improve outcomes across the board, as well as give men a voice in maternity care.

“I look forward to a time when men recognise the perinatal period is a crucial time for them to step up and do all that they can to allow mother and baby bonding and attachment.”

Mr Kennedy believes a changed society perception of the male role during childbirth would result in:
  • Improve ante and post natal mental health
  • Reduce medical interventions
  • Reduce gender based violence
  • Improve breastfeeding outcomes
  • Reduce maternal mortality
  • Reduce perinatal relationship breakdown
  • Reduce pre term birth rate
“Not to mention the financial impacts of the above. Men are an extra pair of hands that up until now has been fully utilised.

“If properly prepared they have the potential to revolutionise maternity care, that's why I call them the sleeping giants. They are an unrealised force.”

In addition to the fathers’ program, Birthing Dads is currently developing a Midwives’ Program, with the aim of providing midwives with a better understanding of the perspective of expectant fathers.

“The program has been piloted at the Royal women's Hospital in Brisbane to rave reviews and feedback.

“We will seek accreditation from Australian college of midwives for inclusion in their professional development program.”

The program is expected to launch in August 2021.

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Nicole Madigan

Nicole Madigan is a widely published journalist with more than 15 years experience in the media and communications industries.

Specialising in health, business, property and finance, Nicole writes regularly for numerous high-profile newspapers, magazines and online publications.

Before moving into freelance writing almost a decade ago, Nicole was an on-air reporter with Channel Nine and a newspaper journalist with News Limited.

Nicole is also the Director of content and communications agency Stella Communications (www.stellacomms.com) and a children's author.