Dads Shut Out: FI boosts support to UK family services

15 December 2021

As evidence continues to emerge about the impact of fathers’ exclusion from maternity services since the start of the pandemic – and of continuing ‘dad bans’ in some parts of the UK – we are boosting the help we offer practitioners to improve their remote father-engagement.

The latest edition of the National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit’s Maternity Survey You and Your Baby 2020, published last week, confirmed that because of Covid-19 restrictions, 81% of birth partners were unable to attend all antenatal appointments; 60% were unable to attend all ultrasound scans and 73% faced restrictions around attending their babies’ births. Higher than usual proportions of women reported anxiety (39% in 2021 compared to 29% in 2018) and depression (22% compared to 16% in 2018) in the postnatal period.

Last month we published Dads Shut Out, based on a smaller sample – our own online survey of fathers’, mothers’ and NHS professionals’ experiences of maternity services during the pandemic (between October 2020 and July 2021). We have also been contacting maternity and other family services to offer them support in engaging more effectively with dads (whether face to face or online).

As well as a range of online training courses and seminars (summarised in our training brochure), we are inviting services to distribute Becoming Dad, our new, free guide for expectant and recent dads (written by the Fatherhood Institute and published in partnership with the Mental Health Foundation). Becoming Dad aims to help men make sense of their new roles and the challenges they face as fathers.

We have also updated our list of resources for dads during the Covid-19 crisis, to which practitioners can signpost men and their families. And we have created a new poster and flyer which practitioners can download to promote the Becoming Dad guide directly to fathers, in waiting rooms and/or via online methods – which can be downloaded below:

Meanwhile the Welsh Government has rejected calls from Birthrights and partner organisations – including ourselves – for a loosening of visiting restrictions in Welsh maternity services, none of which were allowing (in mid-November) more than 2 hours’ access, with one imposing a blanket ban on visitors to maternity inpatients. 

Our letter, dated 15 November, cited evidence about the unintended negative consequences of visiting during the pandemic, but the Government response, dated 10 December, argued that “We recognise the need for families to be together at this important time but also need to balance this with the significant impact that Covid represents to the pregnant population, the unvaccinated cohorts of women and the new Omicron variant” (which had not hit the UK at the time of our original letter).

We will continue to work with Birthrights and the But Not Maternity alliance to fight unnecessarily restrictive and heavy-handed exclusion of fathers and other birth partners, and push for greater investment in alternative provision of information and support for dads, as the crisis develops.

Despite the ongoing challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, new and powerful antenatal and postnatal guidelines [Antenatal Guideline NG201 (19 August 2021) and Postnatal Care Guideline NG194 (20 April 2021)] from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) require healthcare professionals to enable fathers/partners to attend appointments (including remotely), offer them a chair in the consultation room, and provide them with information about pregnancy, breastfeeding, infant care, bonding and supporting their baby’s mother.

Globally speaking, the World Health Organisation recommends action to engage fathers in the light of a robust body of research internationally, demonstrating associations between expectant and new fathers’ behaviour, experiences, attitudes and characteristics, and maternaland infant health and wellbeing. Among its ten recommendations on health promotion interventions for maternal and newborn health published in 2015, it said the following:

Interventions to promote the involvement of men during pregnancy, childbirth and after birth are recommended to facilitate and support improved self-care of women, improved home care practices for women and newborns, improved use of skilled care during pregnancy, childbirth and the postnatal period for women and newborns, and to increase the timely use of facility care for obstetric and newborn complications. (World Health Organisation, 2015: p.3)

Our Nuffield Foundation-funded review of evidence about fathers in the antenatal period, summarised in our 2018 report Who’s the Bloke in the Room?, found that even before the pandemic, father-engagement in NHS maternity services was a long way from systematic and comprehensive.

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