College of DuPage Nursing Student Krista M Healy researched for Healthy Lombard that health promotion specifically focused on parenting tends to focus on the mother rather than the father, with multiple surveys revealing the lack of fatherhood programs that currently exist. Reasons for this may be due to a lack of funding, staff training, and hiring male coordinators. Other barriers may also include the level of co-parenting, the relationship of the child with the mother, socioeconomic issues, and institutional policies (Haines, 2019). However, a strong association does exist between health promotion and interacting and/or engaging fathers. Children are most influenced in the areas of maternal and infant health, physical activity, and mental health, and in all of these categories, fathers significantly impact children, from the start of pregnancy throughout young adulthood (Haines, 2019).
WHY FATHERS IMPACT MATERNAL AND INFANT HEALTH
Unfortunately, the role of the father and their participation in the life of a child is often overlooked. Fortunately, the role of the father has been recognized as an area of need and more attention has been given to it of late. Fathers begin their role in the life of a child before pregnancy and in between pregnancies. Family planning requires both parents to communicate and usually begins with the use of contraceptives when a couple decides to begin a family (Alio, 2019). According to the Maternal and Infant Health Center for Excellence (2017), fathers who do not engage with the fetus during pregnancy may indirectly impact fetal birth weight, increasing the risk for pre-term births. A higher risk of infant mortality also exists from the lack of a father’s engagement and this was found to be irrespective of race or ethnicity (Alio, 2019). Fathers can help reduce maternal stress during pregnancy by not only acknowledging the presence of the fetus but considering their behavior toward the mother. They may do this by talking, singing, or touching the mothers’ belly (Alio, 2019).
A study in which fathers were interviewed demonstrated the area where education was lacking most was in postpartum care (MIHCOE, 2017). The researchers found that fathers often want to support breastfeeding and encourage their partners to breastfeed but feel left out of breastfeeding education and promotion (MIHCOE, 2017). Educating fathers about the importance of breastfeeding and signs as well as signs and symptoms of postpartum depression are especially important (Alio, 2019). Women who have poor relationships with their mothers are also considered to be at high risk, although men can also have postpartum depression which makes communication and education priorities when considering family planning (Haines, 2019).
FATHERS ARE OVERLOOKED AS AGENTS OF BEHAVIORAL CHANGES
Fathers have the most impact on health promotion in the area of physical activity (PA). PA is important since physical inactivity, childhood obesity, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes are health issues that have increased significantly in recent decades (Casey family Programs Organization, 2019). In 2015, the Urban Institute conducted in-depth qualitative interviews of more than 40 fathers who reported feeling good and enjoying PA engagement as a natural way to interact with their children (Casey Family Programs, 2019). Haines (2019) describes activities such as, rough and tumble play, as the type of activity that teaches children to adapt to social situations. Skills learned from this type of play may impact the emotions and peer competence of a child, therefore, fathers can have a significant impact on a child’s behavior by engaging in activity with them (Haines, 2019). Promoting cognitive interaction between parents and children may reduce the amount of participation in screen time habits, i.e., television and smart devices. More cognitive interaction and less screen time has been found to increase developmental skills (Haines, 2019). Physical activity is important and may impact healthy development in various ways, many of which are impacted by involvement from the father during childhood and adolescence.
The EFFECT of MENTAL HEALTH: INDIVIDUAL AND FAMILY UNIT
Research also demonstrates a father and husband have an impact on the mental health of a child (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2016). Once again, this begins with support during pregnancy (Alio, 2019). The support of the father reduces stress and anxiety which helps the mom and baby to stay healthier (Alio, 2019). As children are developing through the stages of growth and development, a father who is involved provides a second perspective and teaching input that benefits the mother. The burden of decision-making is less, and the mother does not have the stress of feeling sole responsibility for decisions when the father assists her (Haines, 2019). Children typically “mirror” their parents so the role of parents or lack of parental involvement is important in determining what is typical in the environment of a child. Their role then is also important in determining their identity and self-image. A single mother may create a less structured or chaotic household in spite of doing the best she can, whereas, when a father is present, children have been found to be less hyperactive and aggressive. Children with active father relationships have been found to have healthier gender identity and higher self-esteem (Alio, 2017). In one study, mental health demonstrated that non-residential fathers were a factor that contributed to abuse (Alio, 2017). All the significant areas of a child’s well-being and mental health may impact children at any stage of growth and development.
In conclusion, strong evidence exists to support that the more a father engages in the life of a child, the healthier the lifestyle of the entire family. It is necessary to develop programs that target community resources to male populations by providing engaging activities for education, as well as partnering with communities to fund these opportunities. Typically, fathers want to be involved but may feel left out or need training or encouragement to be involved (Haines, 2019). Paternal leave options and other opportunities may help to support families by supporting fathers.
Alio, Amina, PhD (2017, June). Rationale and Strategies for engaging fathers in maternal and infant health programs. Maternal & Infant Health Center of Excellence. (June 2017) www.mihcoe.org
Casey Family Programs (2019, April 2). How can we better engage fathers in prevention? www.casey.org/engaging-fathers-prevention
Haines, Jess (2019, April 10). Fathers are Vitally Important to Their Kids Health and to Public Health Research. https://theconversation.com/fathers-are-vitally-important-to-their-kids-health-and-to-public-health-research-115221
American Academy of Pediatrics (2016, July). Fathers’ Roles in the Care and Development of Their Children: The Role of Pediatricians. https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/138/1/e20161128