Washington, DC – A new research brief from Child Trends provides fresh evidence that a man’s attitudes about a partner’s pregnancy and his actions during the pregnancy can tell us a lot about how involved a father he will be.
The brief, Men’s Pregnancy Intentions and Prenatal Behaviors: What They Mean for Fathers’ Involvement With Their Children, presents recently released data on “resident fathers” (i.e., those who live with their children) drawn from a nationally representative study of fathers in 2001 to explore three interrelated issues:
- “Men’s pregnancy intentions,” or men’s feelings about the pregnancies of their partners, especially whether or not men regard the pregnancy as intended, mistimed, or unwanted;
- “Men’s prenatal behaviors,” or men’s participation in activities such as accompanying their partners on doctor visits, attending childbirth classes, or being in the delivery room at the time of birth; and
- The influence of these intentions and behaviors on men’s “postbirth” involvement with their children.
Among the findings:
- One in four resident fathers reported that he did not want the pregnancy to occur. Fathers who reported not wanting the pregnancy were significantly less likely to hold, cuddle, and in other ways show warmth toward their babies than were fathers who reported that the pregnancy occurred at the right time.
- At the other end of the spectrum, fathers who reported that they wished the pregnancy had occurred earlier than it did (nearly two in 10 expectant dads) were significantly more likely to act in nurturing ways toward their babies, such as soothing them when they were fretful or staying home from work to care for them when they were sick.
- Overall, fathers were highly involved with their partners’ pregnancies, as measured by their reports of engaging in selected prenatal behaviors. For example, more than nine in 10 fathers discussed the pregnancy with the mother, felt the baby move, saw an ultrasound of the baby, listened to the baby’s heartbeat, and were in the delivery room when their child was born.
- The fathers who were most involved in supporting their partners during the prenatal period were also more likely than other fathers to be fully involved in helping to rear their children in the first year of life. These men were positively engaged with their very young children on multiple levels—from providing physical care (think changing diapers and giving bottles and baths) to encouraging their intellectual development (by talking and reading to them).
“Too often men have been regarded as the silent partners when it comes to pregnancy,” says Jacinta Bronte-Tinkew, Ph.D., who directs fatherhood research at Child Trends and was the lead author of the research brief, “but how men react to an impending birth can have implications for a child’s start in life—and beyond. We all know how important having an involved, caring mother is to children’s future development. Well, that holds for having an involved, caring father as well.”
“The transition to fatherhood is an ideal opportunity to draw men more actively into parenting. That’s why understanding more about men’s pregnancy intentions and prenatal behaviors is especially valuable,” adds Bronte-Tinkew.
The Child Trends study also found that father’s attitudes about their partner’s pregnancy and fathers’ behaviors during the pregnancy differ by age, race, and ethnicity. For example;
- Teen fathers were more likely to report that they did not want the pregnancy (38 percent) than were men in any other age group.
- Non-Hispanic black fathers and fathers of “other” ethnicities were more likely to report that they did not want the pregnancy (34 percent for both) than were Hispanic or non-Hispanic white fathers.
- Teen fathers and Hispanic fathers were somewhat less likely than other fathers to report their involvement in specific prenatal behaviors, such as discussing the pregnancy, seeing an ultrasound, and listening to the baby’s heartbeat.
“We should not forget, though, that the majority of men in all age, racial, and ethnic groups reported that they were positive about the pregnancy and that they were involved in preparing for the arrival of the baby,” Bronte-Tinkew emphasizes.
The brief also touches on some of the implications of the research findings, such as of the importance of encouraging couples to take both partners’ desires into account when considering starting a family and of making fathers feel welcome in maternity clinics and childbirth preparation classes.
The research on which the brief was based was supported by a grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, U. S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Child Trends is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research center serving those dedicated to creating better lives for children. For more information about Child Trends, click on www.childtrends.org.