Family Matters

Should Prenatal Care Be Extended to Dads?

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Perhaps it’s because mom has the burgeoning belly, but dads have largely been left out of prenatal care. That could be damaging to the family’s health, contends research in a recent issue of the Journal of Advanced Nursing.

Stressed-out, anxious pregnant women who don’t receive adequate support are linked to less-than-ideal infant health outcomes. The role fathers-to-be play hasn’t been studied nearly as much, but because pregnant women rely on them for support and care, researcher ManSoo Yu says it stands to reason that inattentive expectant fathers may also contribute to poorer infant health.

“When people hear about a pregnancy, they automatically think about women and the baby,” says Yu, an assistant professor in the Public Health Program and the School of Social Work at the University of Missouri. “It’s never about men.”

Yu, the study’s lead author, analyzed 66 low-income Missouri couples, examining how stress and social support impacted men and women differently. To get a better hold on the emotions of both men and women during pregnancy, he administered the Prenatal Psychosocial Profile (PPP) to 132 expectant mothers and fathers. The PPP is typically given only to pregnant women to assess stress, self-esteem and how supportive they feel their partners are.

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When confronted with pregnancy-related issues — things like bodily changes and wondering how life will change post-baby — Yu found that men respond in much the same way they do when dealing with financial stressors, while women view them as emotional stressors.

“Men are thinking about how they are going to support their new family,” says Yu. “They are trying to understand the role of the father and consider how they will parent.”

While expectant mothers concentrate on the prenatal period, men tend to focus on the future, fretting about how they’re going to afford diapers and child care. It’s an important distinction and one that should be pointed out to doctors, nurses, midwives and social workers who take care of pregnant women, says Yu.

Whether or how the psychological well-being of men is associated with better pregnancy outcomes isn’t clear, but Yu intends to investigate the association, suggesting that to start men should be more involved in prenatal doctor visits. Practitioners should engage them in caring for their partner during pregnancy and help men prepare for life after baby; men can be offered resources that educate about substance abuse, for example, and help them manage stress and boost their communication skills.

“We have to provide prenatal care for fathers,” says Yu. “Expectant fathers deserve attention and support as well.”

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Data from the research also revealed that men and women doled out support in different ways. Women gave their partners emotional support while men offered tangible support, helping with specific tasks.

If nothing else, that’s encouraging news in light of a recent survey by ForbesWoman and the pregnancy website, which came down hard on dads for not helping out more at home. Sure, women want to feel supported and understood, but what they really want is help with household chores and with the kids.

Well, sort of. The surveyed women complained about their partners not pitching in enough, yet many expressed reluctance to let their partners take over tasks. So it’s a step in the right direction that the dads-to-be in Yu’s study conveyed support by actually taking on domestic duties. Now it’s up to mothers to ease up on trying to be Supermom.