New fathers feel ignored

21 January 2001

A government-funded study has found that men with babies the same age as Tony Blair’s son Leo often feel ignored, ill-informed and unsupported by health professionals, despite their desire to be involved from the beginning of pregnancy. The research is Britain’s largest-ever survey of new fathers.

Launching the findings, the National Childbirth Trust and Fathers Direct called for dads to be given time off for a minimum of three ante-natal appointments, the chance to stay overnight in hospital after the birth and two weeks paid paternity leave. Parental leave, currently unpaid, should be paid at a high wage replacement level.

The three-year study, Becoming A Father*, calls on ante-natal clinics to be more father-friendly, with leaflets and posters aimed at men. Health professionals should be encouraged to work more flexible hours so that the majority of fathers who do not attend ante-natal classes can attend outside normal working hours.

The study of 800 fathers of children under six months revealed widespread dissatisfaction with some health professionals and employers’ attitudes to time off work. The NCT, whose 400 branches run thousands of classes for new parents, and Fathers Direct, authors of a free guide available to 600,000 new fathers annually, call for radical improvements in support for new fathers.

Belinda Phipps, chief executive of the NCT, said:
“Fathers are important. This research shows that, contrary to common belief, most dads want to be involved right from the beginning. Yet it also demonstrates that many fathers, particularly young dads and those from ethnic minorities, are poorly informed and supported. Those responsible for helping new parents should help fathers be fully involved in pregnancy, birth and baby care. This survey shows men want and need more information.”

Tom Beardshaw of Fathers Direct and a “Blair father” of a three-month old boy, said:
“The Government should listen to this, Britain’s largest, most authoritative survey of new dads. Fathers are saying they want to care for their children, but many feel pushed out and unwelcome when they get involved, damaging families and children. Tony Blair highlights that fatherhood is vital to children, yet many of Leo’s contemporaries are failed by those meant to support their dads. Midwives and other health professionals do a fantastic job, but they need to work more effectively with fathers.”

The survey found almost universal desire among the fathers to be involved in pregnancy and care for their babies – (96 per cent attended the birth) – yet more than a third expressed dissatisfaction at being involved too little with the pregnancy. A similar proportion felt inadequately informed on a wide range of vital issues, notably about mood swings in pregnancy, what to expect in labour, post-natal depression, how to cope with the baby’s crying, bathing the baby, the impact on the couple’s relationship, breast-feeding and bottle-feeding. Given research** showing that British fathers today provide more childcare than any other individual apart from the mother, such poor knowledge is a major handicap for families and a challenge to those services supporting them, argue the NCT and Fathers Direct.

The survey indicates some reasons why many fathers are uninformed and frustrated

  • More than a third said they had attended no more than one ante-natal appointment with their pregnant partners. The main reasons why fathers did not attend were inconvenience, employers not giving time off work and uncertainty among men about whether they were welcome or needed. 
  • Over half had no paid paternity leave after the birth. 
  • Although many had positive experiences with health professionals, one third felt that doctors and midwives largely ignored them, around one in ten saying that these health professionals avoided even making eye contact with them. 
  • Three quarters had seen a health visitor at least once since the birth of their child. However, apart from this, the men tended to have little contact with parent and baby services.

A first-time father in the study said:

“As a male I seem to be regarded as a necessary inconvenience at best. It is about time that the father is included fully in all aspects of pregnancy. Potential fathers are looked upon as idiots and patronised accordingly by the literature, midwives etc. It is about time that men are considered equal in these matters.” (31 year old first-time father)

Notes to Editors:

*“Becoming A Father” by Debbie Singh and Mary Newburn, available from NCT Maternity Sales Ltd, 239 Shawbridge St, Glasgow G43 1QN, price £10 plus £1 p&p. Tel 0141 636 0600. The NCT has 55,000 members and offers information and support on pregnancy, childbirth and early parenthood.

** The National Child Development Study

Significant funding for surveying the 817 male respondents pre-birth and 463 post-birth came from the Department of Health and NCT branches

Fathers Direct, the national information service for fathers: Herald House, Lambs Passage, Bunhill Row, London EC1Y 8TQ. Tel 020 7920 9491. The charity, funded by public and private grants, was founded in 1999 to promote close and positive relationships between men and their children.

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