An analysis of data from 2726 unmarried, low-income and generally young couples in USA has shown that when fathers are more practically engaged, there is less risk of low birth weight in the baby.
Engagement was measured through three activities: (1) giving money to the mother, (2) transporting the mother to prenatal clinics and (3) attending the birth. 69% of the fathers did all three and 9% did none or just one. Among the highly engaged fathers, the risk of low birth weight was 10%. For the low-engaged fathers, the risk was 22%, more than double. The US national average for low birth weight is 8%.
The data is taken from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study. The researchers tried two measures of father involvement – the report of mothers and the self-report of fathers. There are discrepancies between the two reports and only the fathers’ reports showed a correlation with low birth weight.
Apart from the practical benefit of the support by the father, his engagement could be signalling commitment to mother and baby, thereby improving mother and baby health. The three measures of practical engagement looked at in this study may, of course, be a proxy for other forms of support being shown by these fathers.
The authors draw attention to the high rate of involvement of men around the birth of a baby, providing a “magic moment” to engage with them. Such engagement could be used to support and encourage greater engagement by fathers not already fully hands on.
Lee SJ, Sanchez DT, Grogan-Kaylor A, Lee JY & Albuja A (2018), Father early engagement behaviors and infant low birth weight, Maternal and Child Health Journal