UK guidelines on antenatal education specify how fathers should be engaged

antenatal education

The UK Department of Health’s Preparation for Birth and Beyond (2011) sets out in some detail (220 pages) how antenatal education should be configured. It refers to “mother and father” throughout. Research shows that when content and activities are tailored to include and meet their needs, fathers engage well, and this benefits them, their partners and their babies.

A key recommendation is that maternity services actively find out what local mothers and fathers want, to ensure they cater for diversity of population, such as ethnic/language groups and parents of different ages.

The target outcomes for antenatal education are specified as:

  • Mothers and fathers are able to give their baby the best start in life.
  • Mothers and fathers have a positive birth experience.

In terms of delivery of education, the priorities for fathers are:

  1. Address the father as a parent of the baby, as well as a support person for the mother.
  2. Engage the father specifically and actively, offering information and resources that directly address men. Use the word “father” because “parent” is often perceived to mean “mother”. This will overcome the perception that antenatal education is only for women.
  3. Provide some men-only sessions later on in the antenatal course.
  4. Help mothers and fathers understand that becoming a skilled parent is a matter of practice for both parents.
  5. Ensure fathers are particularly well-informed about health issues over which they have influence: breastfeeding, diet, alcohol use, smoking, mental health.

The Preparation for Birth and Beyond programme identifies six themes and in the expansion of each theme addresses issues pertaining particularly to fathers.

  1. The developing baby
  2. Changes for the parents
  • Dealing with couple differences and conflicts in the early days.
  • Managing work/training/learning – parental and paternity leave entitlements.
  • Managing the couple relationship after the birth (quality declines in many couples).
  • Managing the pressures of gender norms (couples tend to fall into traditional gender roles after a baby is born, yet often feel troubled about this).
  • Understanding Parental Responsibility for fathers, if unmarried.
  1. Giving birth and meeting the baby
  • Understanding of the role of a birth partner and preparation to be one if intending to be present at the birth,
  1. Caring for the baby
  • Father-baby bonding (which leads to greater paternal investment in the child).
  • Practical skills handling the baby (which leads to him doing more of it).
  • Support for breastfeeding.
  1. Parental health and well-being
  • Postnatal depression, in either mother or father (or both).
  • Dealing with worries – lack of role, low confidence, money and work, not knowing what to do.
  1. People who are there for us
  • Links to support for new fathers in the community.


UK Department of Health (2011), Preparation for Birth and Beyond

Photo: Paul D’Ambra. Creative Commons.