The silent partner during pregnancy and childbirth isn’t disinterested; he is just not engaged in the process. This was the finding by University of Michigan professor Mustafa Naseem in a culture across the ocean where infant care is considered women’s business. Naseem was surprised by receiving over 40,000 calls requesting information during the first two months of launching his Super Abbu (Super Dad) program. He wanted to improve paternal engagement during pregnancy and childbirth. Ninety-six percent of the calls came from men.
Given the opportunity to ask questions and share stories over the phone, men in Pakistan showed remarkable interest in everything from general health to how long to breastfeed boys vs. girls. Since prior research indicated a strong bond between male partner involvement and maternal and child health, Naseem knew he was on the right track.
I would propose that interest in our culture is at least as strong as the more paternal culture of Pakistan.
Hospitals in America continue to serve the pregnant partner while ignoring her support system. Despite the fact that it takes two to conceive a child, almost every action is geared to the mother’s habits and health to the point of renaming the facility where this healthcare is offered to the “Women’s Center.” If classes in the childbirth curriculum are even offered for men, they are not considered as valuable and receive little publicity and advertising.
Engaging the partner of the patient improves outcomes in physical and mental health, the length of time and success of breastfeeding and even infant mortality. While the infant mortality rate in Naseem’s study was among the lowest in the world, mortality in the United States remains a concern. Almost 50 countries in the world have better mortality rates than ours.
Media images increasingly display the tender interaction and care of infants by men. This is certainly a welcome change. The tasks of informing and answering questions for these caregivers remains challenging. Childbirth class attendance continues to be unbalanced while questions from men remain awkward during these sessions. Classes geared to the fathers give ample attention to answering questions but many men have already attended their required childbirth class session and opt to remain at home. Those who attend a class for fathers often delay until a few days or weeks before the birth, passing most of their opportunities to engage.
Naseem’s challenge to the mindset of his culture is inspiring, nonetheless. By finding a format where men without internet connections could engage experts with their questions, he touched a nerve that brought thousands of responses. Creative approaches could yield similar results in America where smart phones are a universal accessory.
Engaging dad is clearly worth the effort! Seek programs offering meetings, social media interaction and expert guidance. Go to doctor appointments as well as the sonogram day. Read, ask and consider what could be done to make your baby’s life and health richer.