High-risk pregnancy can lead to anxiety or depression for expecting mothers, and it can have an effect on expecting fathers as well. In this blog post, the author of a new paper in BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth discuss their findings in the under-studied area of fatherhood and high-risk pregnancy.
Does high-risk pregnancy impact fathers/partners as well?
The transition to fatherhood significantly impacts men’s mental health and well-being. This is further compounded in the context of fatherhood and high-risk pregnancy (HRP), which remains a significantly under-researched area. The experience of impending parenthood is usually met with some angst but typically more excitement and joy. This joy can be shattered in the context of HRP for both mother and father. This impact is felt in similar but different ways and while research in the area of HRP more broadly remains limited, research specifically on fathers and HRP is rare. Thus, our study addressed the need to explore fathers’ experiences as it relates to HRP by specifically using a scoping review methodology.
What led you to study the impact of high-risk pregnancy on fathers?
HRP has a negative psychological impact on both parents. For men, this period is also associated with severe stress-related symptoms, including being at an increased risk for the onset of mental health problems including, but not limited to, anxiety and depression. This means that fathers are also in need of support, particularly in the context of their role being perceived as only carer and supporter to their partners. This research is also linked to a larger study focusing on the experiences of fathers and HRP using an ethnographic, grounded theory approach.
How does a high-risk pregnancy affect fathers?
Ultimately, this research provides a greater understanding of the needs of fathers and what structures, interventions, and policies should be put in place to ensure that fathers feel both part of and supported throughout the pregnancy journey, especially a high-risk one.
Through our research, we found that fathers are negatively impacted by a HRP through the way in which they are treated by healthcare professionals. This impact is felt in the lack of information that fathers are provided as well as a lack of figurative and literal spaces in the hospital environments for fathers to occupy. Fathers often reported that healthcare professionals tended to only inform mothers of the various treatment plans, prognosis of the treatment and conditions experienced by both mother and baby, thereby excluding fathers from the treatment process altogether and invalidating his presence, experience and contribution towards the family unit as a whole. Additionally, we noted that fathers tended to undergo a process of redefining their identity and the roles they envisioned in terms of what it means to be a “father.” This was experienced in fulfilling both a supportive function in the hospital and a single parent role at home, ensuring that older children were seen to and the household continued to function. All of these changes and uncertainties ultimately led to fathers experiencing a range of mental health challenges.
How would a focus on fathers improve outcomes for mother, father, and baby?
Our study demonstrated that providing fathers with greater emotional and practical support has a direct impact on the aid they are able to provide for their child(ren) and partner. A lack of felt support increases mental health challenges which precipitates long-term effects on fathers. This in turn is felt by the mother and child(ren). A key finding from our study in this regard is the need for a family-centered approach by hospitals and healthcare providers in treating the family as a complete and functional unit.
Why is it important?
This research is important because it acknowledges and highlights the alienation experienced by fathers and the difficulties that they encounter as a result of this alienation by healthcare professionals through a lack of information provided to them. Ultimately, this research provides a greater understanding of the needs of fathers and what structures, interventions, and policies should be put in place to ensure that fathers feel both part of and supported throughout the pregnancy journey, especially a high-risk one.
What most surprised or excited you?
It was surprising to see how little research has focused on fatherhood in the context of HRP. This is notwithstanding the limited research that has focused on mothers’ experiences as it relates to HRP. The more significant finding was that fathers experienced a range of mental health-related challenges that remain unstated or out of focus. In essence, the focus on the involved father is a pertinent debate currently, while fathers are navigating the disjunction between the involved father, traditional constructs of masculinity and the medical spaces where they are not always welcomed or supported.