In 2011, the Royal College of Midwives in UK published guidelines on involving fathers in maternity care, Reaching out: Involving Fathers in Maternity Care. It was a joint initiative with the Fatherhood Institute, the UK Government’s Department of Health and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.
It built on an earlier policy of the UK Government, which specified that engagement with fathers by maternity services is important because of the long-term benefits for child health and welfare:
“The involvement of prospective and new fathers in a child’s life is extremely important for maximising the life-long wellbeing and outcomes of the child (regardless of whether the father is resident or not). Pregnancy and birth are the first major opportunities to engage fathers in appropriate care and upbringing of children.” (National Service Framework, 2004).
The guidelines present referenced evidence relating to the benefits of father involvement for maternal health, for a positive birth experience, for family relationships and for breastfeeding. The guidelines identify the main barriers – lack of awareness of the evidence by health professionals and the fact that the whole health system makes father-inclusion difficult. Mary Steen, co-founder of Family Included, is quoted: “fathers experience their place in maternity care as being ‘not-patient’ and ‘not-visitor’… in an undefined space, with the consequence that many feel uncertain, excluded and fearful”. (Steen et al, 2011).
The guidelines propose a number of strategies:
- information for fathers – “they need to know precisely what they should do to get it right”
- recognizing a father as an individual – being welcoming, knowing his name
- changing attitudes of professionals
- actively supporting the transition to fatherhood.
The guidelines list practical tips that professionals can take antenatally, at the birth and postnatally. Examples of good practice are presented, along with links to useful resources.
Guidelines for family inclusive maternal healthcare globally: how would they be different?
Family Included is planning to develop guidelines for family inclusive care globally. They will be different from the UK guidelines in a number of ways:
- A lot of new evidence now exists and it is possible to make a stronger and more precise case.
- The focus will be “family inclusion” rather than just fathers, but with a careful analysis of how gender beliefs affect how professionals and family members behave.
- The strategies and tips will be universally applicable in middle and low-income countries.
- The guidelines will link to a website so that case studies and resources can continually be updated.