A review of 10 research articles from UK, Australia, Sweden and Uganda has concluded that fathers need additional social support after witnessing complications during the birth of their baby. “The current study argues that, since fathers can also suffer from maternity-related poor psychological ill-health, the care chain should also provide them with social support.”
Such support enables the father to adjust better to the situation, feel like they understand what’s happening, and be an active participant during the birth. We know from other research that acute traumatic symptoms in fathers affect mothers’ post-traumatic stress levels. The reviewed research, like earlier research, shows that support for the father from a health professional reduces stress and anxiety and lessens the chances of him becoming a passive observer.
Themes from the 10 studies include the following.
Fathers who feel unsupported by health professionals report arrogance, hostility, lack of sensitivity and an inability to communicate, including the use of medical jargon, which excludes the father from decision-making and not having an active role during this time period.
Fathers who report a lack of information, experience confusion, anger, fear and helplessness. Sometimes the lack of contact with professionals and the lack of information go on for hours.
Fathers who report a positive experience with health professionals receive information about the complication, as well as other supports, which helps them process their reaction to the events.
Fathers reported the environment of the delivery room was not always helpful; for example, no provision of furniture for the father to use, such as a seat. Sometimes fathers are left in a bloody birthing room not knowing, for several hours, how their partner and baby are doing.
When the father is separated from the mother during an emergency, it is psychologically and emotionally hard, particularly if it goes on for a long time without any information from health professionals. Sometimes, in a neonatal unit, the father is left with a baby while the mother recovers. Fathers find this position to be precarious, as on the one hand, they get to bond with their baby during their first few hours after birth, but they may also worry about the mother-baby separation.
Vallinn E, Nestander H, Wells MB (2019), A literature review and meta-ethnography f fathers’ psychological health and received social support during unpredictable complicated childbirths, Midwifery 68
Photo: Jason Bachman. Creative Commons.