Research shows postnatal services are not engaging with fathers

on 16 June 2022

Research conducted by the Fatherhood Institute, funded by Nuffield Foundation, shows postnatal services are not engaging with fathers during the first year postnatal.

The research systematically reviewed around 800 studies and literature, including studies based on the UK’s large-scale birth cohort studies, on fathers and fatherhood in the first year following birth.

It found that even without the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions in maternity services, NHS services are not created to engage, assess and support fathers. This is despite evidence that fathers’ physical and mental health impact on babies’ future health and wellbeing.

The research identified challenges in maternity services such as health records for babies in the UK only allowing one adult (usually the mother) on the records and information relating to the father are held separately, and family records can not be connected up. This means fathers have no status as patients within maternity services and other perinatal services.

It also found that fathers receive no care or support when it comes to caregiving skills, which can help them to understand child development or how to keep their baby safe. According to the report, 95% of fathers assist with comforting their crying baby regularly, with 14% sometimes fearing their high stress levels could harm their baby.

Evidence shows fathers have significant impact on key maternal outcomes for their child such as supporting the continuation and initiation of breastfeeding and postnatal depression. However, services have limited or no information to support them in their role as a father, despite 80% of new mothers reporting the father to be their main source of support.

Head of Research at the Fatherhood Institute and co-author of the research, Adrienne Burgess, said: “We ourselves were stunned, when we pulled this research together, to discover the extent to which infant and child outcomes (and outcomes for mothers, too) are impacted by fathers’ behaviour and characteristics in the first few months after the birth. It is also deeply disappointing to discover that no systematic support is offered to new fathers by NHS providers – no recognition of their role, or even, sometimes, their existence.”

The report ‘Bringing Baby Home’ has outlined four key recommendations to ensure fathers are included in postnatal care:

  • Fathers’ names, contact details and NHS number should be included on the NHS birth notifications so fathers can be contacted directly by services.
  • All tax-funded services and interventions for families in the perinatal period, including those commissioned by central government such as the Reducing Parental Conflict programme and Family Hubs, should be designed, delivered and promoted to recognise own fathers’ needs for support.
  • The government should fund, pilot and evaluate a scalable, locality-wide approach to embedding father-inclusive practice.
  • The government should pilot new approaches of parental leave for fathers, focusing on different working groups of fathers including those who are employed, self-employed and working in the ‘gig economy’.

The ‘Bringing Baby Home’ report can be read in full here.