Dads have a major influence on whether or not mum’s access help when they might need it and how they manage the challenges of pregnancy and a new baby

Dads can have a big influence on whether mothers go for help and get assistance when struggling with anxiety or depression. When at risk mothers were asked who they go to for help with emotional problems more than 9/10 said their partner compared to about 50% who said their GP1. So the first person that’s likely to hear about a mum’s distress, sadness and anxiety is THE DAD. The first person who’s going to notice that she’s not sleeping enough, that she is not enjoying the new baby, that she’s not feeling confident to figure out what to do, is THE DAD.

Dad’s are in a position to suggest that talking to her GP might not be a bad idea. Or checking out the online support that’s available and free. Well that’s what dads do all the time. What the research underlines is that how the dad listens, and how he reacts will have a big impact on how the pregnancy and birth go2,3.

Dads Influence -

After the birth his support will influence mothers’ ability to cope with exhaustion and interact positively with their infant and not only reduce the likelihood of postnatal depression but assist in reducing its effects4,5,6.

The research also tells us that fathers are a major factor in a whole lot of key issues for mums with their new baby. For example, how mum manages breastfeeding and whether or not she sticks at it, whether she gives up smokes during pregnancy etc are all heavily influenced by dad’s comments, his reactions and the practical and emotional support he gives7,8 .

Recent evidence that side sleeping and taking action when the baby’s movements decrease in the last semester can reduce SIDS points to another area where dads are key even when they’re not the ones carrying the baby9.

Dads Influence -

REFERENCES

  1. Schmied et al. (2016). Antenatal psychosocial risk status and Australian women’s use of primary care and specialist mental health services in the year after birth: a prospective study. BMC women’s health16(1), 69
  2. Cheng, E. R., Rifas-Shiman, S. L., Perkins, M. E., Rich-Edwards, J. W., Gillman, M. W., Wright, R., & Taveras, E. M. (2016). The influence of antenatal partner support on pregnancy outcomes. Journal of Women’s Health25(7), 672-679.
  3. Stapleton, L. R. T., Schetter, C. D., Westling, E., Rini, C., Glynn, L. M., Hobel, C. J., & Sandman, C. A. (2012). Perceived partner support in pregnancy predicts lower maternal and infant distress. Journal of family psychology26(3), 453.
  4. Dennis, C. L., & Ross, L. (2006). Women’s perceptions of partner support and conflict in the development of postpartum depressive symptoms. Journal of advanced nursing56(6), 588-599.
  5. Gillis, A., & Roskam, I. (2019). Daily Exhaustion and Support in Parenting: Impact on the Quality of the Parent–Child Relationship. Journal of Child and Family Studies28(7), 2007-2016.
  6. Vakrat, A., Apter-Levy, Y., & Feldman, R. (2018). Sensitive fathering buffers the effects of chronic maternal depression on child psychopathology. Child Psychiatry & Human Development49(5), 779-785.
  7. Mahesh, P. K. B., Gunathunga, M. W., Arnold, S. M., Jayasinghe, C., Pathirana, S., Makarim, M. F., … & Senanayake, S. J. (2018). Effectiveness of targeting fathers for breastfeeding promotion: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Public Health18(1), 1140.
  8. Duckworth, A. L., & Chertok, I. R. A. (2012). Review of perinatal partner-focused smoking cessation interventions. MCN: The American Journal of Maternal/Child Nursing37(3), 174-181.
  9. See saferbaby.org.au

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Richard’s research revealed possible long-term negative impacts on the children of dads with mental health issues. Fathers’ depressive symptoms in the first year after the birth predicted behaviour problems in their children years later.

“If dads’ mental health has such a dramatic impact then we need to be screening dads for depression, not just mums,” Richard explains.

In response to these limitations, Richard and his team have designed a smart-phone based program that allows mobile connection for new and expectant dads.

Participants receive texts containing information and links, and self-report their mood. If the mood tracker identifies dads as needing extra support, they will be offered a phone call from a counsellor trained in this area.

Following the success of the pilot of the SMS4dads program, Funding was received to enable a National roll-out.

“When dad’s miss antenatal classes or activities, they also miss out on contact and links to other people.  They may never get the chance to say to anyone, look I’m really stressed,” he points out.

“SMS4dads is a way of bringing dads into the health system and keeping them linked in with services and support,” explains Richard.

Richard Fletcher

Associate Professor, PhD

Richard credits a varied career, a talented and innovative team, and much life experience for affording him the insight needed to address the challenges related to actively engaging dads.

After completing his masters in Medical Science, studying epidemiology, Richard earned his PhD focusing on fathers and attachment.

“Fathers are invisible in many places, and that is endemic. Not because people dislike fathers, but because the system is set up to be focused on mothers.”

Some services and organisations are aware of the need to engage dads, but have been unsuccessful in their attempts.

“When people are challenged about this, they generally want dads involved,” Richard affirms.

“Often, however, they just don’t know how to do it.”

Richard works with health professionals on issues related to fathers, and has delivered many antenatal programs for expectant dads.

He credits his own family with giving him an understanding of the role of fathers needed to make his work relevant.

“I have three daughters and two stepdaughters,”

“My kids would say they taught me just about everything I know and they’d be right. They’ve taught me a lot, and still do.”

Richard’s research revealed possible long-term negative impacts on the children of dads with mental health issues. Fathers’ depressive symptoms in the first year after the birth predicted behaviour problems in their children years later.

“If dads’ mental health has such a dramatic impact then we need to be screening dads for depression, not just mums,” Richard explains.

In response to these limitations, Richard and his team have designed a smart-phone based program that allows mobile connection for new and expectant dads.

Participants receive texts containing information and links, and self-report their mood. If the mood tracker identifies dads as needing extra support, they will be offered a phone call from a counsellor trained in this area.

Following the success of the pilot of the SMS4dads program, Funding was received to enable a National roll-out.

“When dad’s miss antenatal classes or activities, they also miss out on contact and links to other people.  They may never get the chance to say to anyone, look I’m really stressed,” he points out.

“SMS4dads is a way of bringing dads into the health system and keeping them linked in with services and support,” explains Richard.