Fathers matter

Fathers Matter: A Prospective Study to Identify Determinants of Fathers’ Engagement During Pregnancy

Fathers’ involvement with their children has been shown to profoundly influence child development. Emerging research suggests that fathers’ level of engagement during pregnancy is also positively associated with maternal and infant health outcomes and is a strong predictor of father involvement in the postnatal period. However, much of what is known about father engagement during pregnancy stems from retrospective reports. While we have shown that the antenatal period is a time when men want to be involved, men often report feeling ignored and excluded from antenatal care services. Canadian studies to examine the extent of fathers’ engagement in pregnancy and how sociodemographic (e.g. education, immigrant status), contextual (e.g. satisfaction with antenatal care), maternal and paternal-related gender beliefs and psychosocial factors (e.g. depression, anxiety) influence fathers’ engagement are lacking. Research to enhance our understanding of fathers’ engagement in pregnancy is urgently needed if we are to develop gender-responsive and father inclusive strategies to integrate fathers throughout the pregnancy process and identify men who may benefit from more targeted
programs to facilitate engagement during the transition to parenthood.

Primary objectives are to: 1) comprehensively assess and identify determinants of father engagement in pregnancy in a diverse socioeconomic and culturally representative sample of first-time expectant fathers; 2) examine the influence of fathers’ antenatal involvement on i) maternal health behaviours and psychological adjustment during pregnancy and ii) on fathers’ postnatal involvement. Secondary objectives will examine men’s experiences and satisfaction with antenatal care.

Research Approach
A prospective study with 4 assessment points (second and third trimester, 2- and 6-months following childbirth) over the perinatal period is being proposed. Couples expecting their first child will be recruited from obstetrical and prenatal community care clinics in the Montreal, Laurentian and Gatineau areas. Fathers’ will complete an on-line questionnaire assessing multidimensional aspects of antenatal engagement (e.g. attendance at prenatal visits, information seeking, talking/singing to the partner’s belly). A number of variables (e.g. sociodemographic, contextual, relationship, gender role beliefs, psychosocial) will be assessed to identify determinants and outcomes related to father engagement. Partners will also complete questionnaires to better understand maternal factors related to fathers’ engagement. Qualitative interviews with a subgroup of fathers will determine more comprehensively barriers and facilitators to engagement during pregnancy and obtain insights into ways to better integrate fathers in the pregnancy journey.

Our multidisciplinary team includes experts in perinatal psychology, psychiatry, nursing, obstetrics and biostatistics, as well as knowledge end-users in perinatal information dissemination and health care policy.

The proposed study will advance the limited knowledge base on the determinants of fathers’ engagement during their partner’s pregnancy in a Canadian context. The findings will inform initiatives for more father inclusive antenatal care practice and guide the design of innovative strategies to facilitate father engagement during pregnancy. This in turn can set the trajectory of engaged fathering and improve outcomes for fathers, mothers and their infants.

Deborah Dacosta: deborah.dacosta@mcgill.ca