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beyondblue: Healthy Dads? The Challenge of Being a New Father

beyondblue was commissioned by funding from the Movember Foundation to conduct this research which aims to understand experiences of psychological distress in new fathers, the barriers and facilitators to help seeking, appropriate communication concepts for engagement, and identifying strategies to support them and help to build their resilience.

 

 
Information provided during pregnancy needs to filter through not just to expecting mothers but to the fathers. Access to information about fatherhood needs to happen earlier, needs to be father-specific, and must be delivered directly to the father..
 

Becoming a parent is a time of significant adjustment that is handled well by most men and women. Community and social expectations of what it means to be a father has changed in recent decades leading to more active engagement by fathers in raising their children.

Research reveals that the increasing role for fathers poses risks of significant mental health issues for new fathers, with many new fathers showing signs of mental distress. New fathers experience many challenges adjusting to fatherhood including: lack of sleep, juggling work, family commitments and finances, and this results in higher levels of stress.

Many new fathers are unaware that paternal ante/postnatal depression even exists, and only 55% of surveyed fathers aware of paternal ante/postnatal depression broadly are also aware that it can affect both men and women. The limited awareness, understanding and negative attitudes, such as experiencing these conditions is a sign of weakness, something to hide, feel defensive about and even ashamed about regarding paternal depression and anxiety, represent barriers to help seeking for new fathers.

During group discussions and online forum many fathers expressed a wish to feel more included by health professionals during their partner's pregnancy and after the birth, and to have received greater acknowledgement of their presence and role and more dad-focused practical information. Some fathers mentioned feeling actively excluded or ignored by hospital staff, Maternity Health Nurses and others.

The following strategic recommendations and interventions were developed based on the specific needs of new fathers, stage of fatherhood and the specific point in the fatherhood journey:

  • Targeted information online for expectant fathers during the first trimester, covering the impact of the pregnancy on their partner’s body, how to manage financial pressures, how to manage anxiety and stress.
  • A leaflet that is given to fathers at the 20 week scan to direct them to fatherfocused online and app resources.
  • A change in focus at antenatal classes towards coparenting approach, and including a fathers only session to give fathers the tools and confidence to step up to be a co parent.
  • Father-inclusive practice at hospitals at the time of birth, to ensure that fathers are given equal information about caring for their baby.
  • Provision of a full debrief to both parents experiencing a traumatic birth, to help them understand what happened, why, and what the implications are for baby and mother.
  • Inclusion of fathers as co-parents in maternal and child health visits.
  • Direct contact with fathers by text or phone to raise their awareness of paternal stress, coping tools, and support resources.
  • First time fathers groups that mirror current mothers groups,and extend from simple information about caring for the baby through to guiding new fathers on how to look after themselves and their relationship.
  • Digital resources (website and app) that provide comprehensive information to new fathers in a way that aligns with their typically reactive need for such guidance.
  • Activity based groups for more experienced fathers to help them make social connections and share information and experiences.
  • Digital resources that encompass the needs of more experienced fathers for information about raising children and re-establishing their partner relationships after getting past the first year of their child’s life.
  • A workplace advocacy program that helps employers become aware of the challenges and stresses faced by their new father employees, and encourages extension of flexible and supportive workplace practices, particularly into blue collar sectors.

Resources Available

 

 

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The Men’s Health Information and Resource Centre received funding from the Australian Government.

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