With Father’s Day fast approaching, it’s the perfect time to consider the importance of dads in the delivery room. I know the mums do all the hard core, heavy work but fathers play a valuable supporting role. OK, as a dad myself, I may be a little biased, but I’ve delivered thousands of babies and I’ve seen that having the right birth partner can make all the difference. That’s why I was disappointed to read that a new survey showed that many men felt shut out around the time of the birth.
The Huffington Post investigation ‘How was it for you?’ looked at 1,800 British men who have become Dads in Britain over the last five years. It confirms that we’ve moved on from the times when the Dad used to lurk in the corridor or hide in the pub during the birth. Now, most fathers are present when their baby is born, they’re also entitled to paternity leave and time off to attend the scan and antenatal appointments- so why do so many men feel ignored and discounted?
The survey showed that nearly a third of fathers were barely recognised by healthcare staff during antenatal appointments; with over half noting that they were not addressed by name and 65% having no opportunity to discuss their feelings about impending parenthood.
It seems that when problems arise, the focus is exclusively on the mother. Of course, a mother’s health is paramount but the worries and fears of dads should also be considered. Michael Bunting from Yorkshire reported his experience when his wife sadly miscarried: ‘The nurse not only didn’t speak to me; she didn’t even look at me once throughout the whole conversation. While my concern at the time was focused on my wife, on reflection, I was appalled and offended.’ I am too. At such a difficult time the feelings of both parents should be respected.
When our daughter Poppy was born, it was one of the most wonderful events in my life. Sadly, many dads don’t have such a positive experience, feeling excluded during the birth and the post-natal period. Nearly three quarters of fathers were unable to stay overnight because there were no facilities and 44% reported that stringent visiting policies meant that the time they could spend with their partner and new baby was limited.
One dad said that ‘after the birth I was treated as a nuisance and was in the way. I was told to leave immediately after my wife was brought to the ward with the baby.’ Dad Wayne Gorman had similar complaints: ‘My treatment was utterly despicable. I was tolerated only, never asked how I was managing, even though, due to my partner being in hospital for six days with our son, it was me doing all of his primary care, and most of hers.’ I know delivery units and postnatal wards are busy, but why are we being so difficult and dismissive of the people who can help make a new mum feel supported, nurtured and loved?
It’s not just about the needs and rights of fathers, it’s simply that fathers can be useful for practical and emotional assistance. In fact, nearly half of dads thought the birth was safer because they were there and an overwhelming majority of 96% believed that staying with their partner after the birth would be helpful to the mother.
I’m a big believer in the importance of skin-to-skin contact after the birth. It’s not just mums who can benefit from that close connection with their baby, dads can too. Research confirms that fathers who get skin to skin contact with their babies in the first twenty-four hours after delivery feel more connected and bonded with their new child. It’s linked to the love hormone oxytocin which floods through the body. Supporting dads in getting close to their babies will help boost their emotional attachment, which is great for the child and for future family life.
Your Pregnancy Doctor believes in supporting all parents. Women are at the absolute heart of pregnancy care and that should never change, but dads can make a real difference to the wellbeing of women during and after the birth. They can be a constant support when medical staff may be busy elsewhere. By undervaluing their input and making them feel shut out, we are selling mothers, fathers and families short. Happy Father’s Day!