Involved Fathers May Help Reduce Infant Mortality

By Kristine Hartvigsen on June 18th, 2017

There’s a hilarious “I Love Lucy” episode when Lucy is going into labor, and it’s time to go to the hospital. Despite intricate planning and rehearsal, when the moment arrives, what ensues is lots of panic and fumbling with Ricky, Ethel, and Fred all forgetting their roles and actually leaving Lucy behind in their rush to get out of the apartment.

Every pregnant woman needs support, and the importance of a father’s role during pregnancy and labor too often can be overlooked. Having the father around to provide support during pregnancy and labor is not just “something nice” to have. There is sound evidence that a father’s early and ongoing involvement positively impacts the health of both mother and baby and even reduces infant mortality.

Researchers at the University of South Florida in 2010 studied more than 1.39 million cases of live birth between 1998 and 2005. Among their findings:

• Infants with absent fathers were more likely to be born with lower birth weights, to be pre-term, and to be small for gestational age.
• Regardless of race or ethnicity, the neonatal death rate of father-absent infants was nearly four times that of their counterparts with involved fathers.
• The risk of poor birth outcomes was highest for infants born to black women whose babies’ fathers were absent during their pregnancies. Even after adjusting for socioeconomic differences, these babies were seven times more likely to die in infancy than babies born to Hispanic and white women in the same situation.
• Obstetric complications contributing to premature births, such as anemia, chronic high blood pressure, eclampsia, and placental abruption, were more prevalent among women whose babies’ fathers were absent during pregnancy.

"Our study suggests that lack of paternal involvement during pregnancy is an important and potentially modifiable risk factor for infant mortality," lead author Amina Alio, PhD, told the journal Science Daily.

Dads can help expectant moms in a variety of ways. They can:

• share the emotional journey, reduce stress, and provide empathetic support;
• join in and reinforce healthy habits such as preparing nutritious meals, exercising, avoiding tobacco, drugs, and alcohol;
• ease pregnancy discomforts by giving back rubs and foot massages;
• accompany moms to prenatal visits and ultrasound appointments;
• attend childbirth classes with moms
• participate in shopping for baby clothes and decorating the nursery;
• pitch in with household chores;
• provide financial and/or insurance support;
• serve as labor and breathing coaches during labor; and
• be strong advocates for moms in the clinical setting.

One interesting manifestation of paternal support during pregnancy is a condition called Couvade Syndrome in which the father begins to experience their partner’s pregnancy symptoms. Also called “sympathetic pregnancy,” men with Couvade Syndrome may complain of weight gain, bloating, fatigue, heartburn, backaches, morning sickness, and even breast enlargement.

There is not much research archived on Couvade Syndrome, but it is not particularly uncommon. Several studies estimate that between 25-50% of U.S. men experience Couvade Syndrome at varying intensities. Theories include the possibility that the increased stress of impending parenthood may alter a man’s hormonal balance, lowering testosterone and increasing cortisol levels. Symptoms usually begin during the first trimester, abate during the second trimester, and return in the final trimester. Symptoms generally disappear after the baby is born, but some men have been known to exhibit symptoms similar to moms’ — such as postpartum depression — months after the birth.

In the past, fathers in our modern culture often got a bad rap for being absent or uninvolved. But they’re more involved in the lives of their children now than ever. There are resources to help. But it’s also vitally important that every one of us give our love to fathers everywhere so they feel empowered to be engaged with their families.

Happy Father’s Day!

This blog provides general information and discussion about healthcare-related subjects. The content and linked materials provided are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice. If the reader is an expectant mother with a medical concern, she should consult with an appropriately licensed physician or healthcare provider.


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