Three research papers published by Shefaly Shorey and colleagues in Singapore have assessed the information and support needs of fathers in the first weeks and months after the birth of a baby. In particular, they asked fathers what would improve the situation for fathers. One study involved 15 fathers in the first week after the birth, and the other two involved 50 fathers both at one week and at 6 months after the birth. The fathers were educated and all in employment, mostly full-time.
Fathers recommended more work leave, more public information about caring fatherhood, more relevant antenatal education, more professional postnatal support, better information about babycare and more connection with other fathers. A proposal was made to create a mobile app facilitating these supports.
The group of fathers was highly ethnically diverse – 62% Chinese, 32% Malay and 6% Indian – in common with the population of Singapore. Cultural traditions affect fatherhood differently. For example, the Malay culture carries a strong assumption that mothers will lead on caring for newborns and in Chinese culture there is a strong tradition of filial piety. These traditions can result in tension between traditional expectations and more modern aspirations of gender equality and paternal bonding with the baby. One example of generational tension revealed in the research was around breastfeeding, with a father being more supportive of it than the older members of the family.
Many of the experiences of these fathers are similar to those found in other countries.
- They report a tension between modern aspirations of fatherhood and the continued expectation that fathers will be the main earner and mothers be the main carer, which leads to a strong division of roles and competencies. There is additional pressure in cultures where the wider family provides comprehensive support to the mother, reducing the scope for the father to develop a caring role. In Singapore, fathers get 2 weeks paternity leave during the first 4 months, while mothers get maternity period for the whole period, 9 times more.
- Some fathers report the one-way direction of emotional support: fathers need to provide emotional support to mothers but nobody has the role of providing emotional support to fathers, such as providing helpful feedback on how they are doing.
- There is a general appreciation among fathers of the support that is provided by healthcare professionals during the time in hospital before the birth, but a feeling that beyond that, support is insufficient.
- There is a common experience of intense stress in the first weeks.
- There is a need for continued advice around things like crying, nutrition and infant development.
- Family and friends are a major source of information.
- The couple relationship faces challenges through the transition.
The fathers were asked what recommendations they have for improving support for fatherhood. The following proposals emerged.
- More work leave for fathers.
- More public information to normalise the caring role of fathers.
- Better antenatal education, including the role of the father.
- Better postnatal support from healthcare professionals.
- Better information postnatally on topics such as infant care, common illnesses and detecting health problems in the baby.
- Peer groups postnatally with other fathers.
A particular recommendation by fathers was a mobile-health app providing information, contact with professionals and connection with peers.
Shorey S, Ang L, Goh ECL & Lopez V (2019), Paternal involvement of Singaporean fathers within six months postpartum: A follow-up qualitative study, Midwifery 70
Shorey S, Ang L & Goh ECL (2018), Lived experiences of Asian fathers during the early postpartum period: Insights from qualitative enquiry, Midwifery 60
Shorey S, Dennis C-L, Bridge S, Chong YS, Holroyd E & He H-G (2017), First-time fathers’ postnatal experiences and support needs: A descriptive qualitative study, Journal of Advanced Nursing 73
Photo: Dickson Phua. Creative Commons.