Testing Times: Supporting fathers during the perinatal period and early parenthood

Introduction: Anna Williamson

As a mum I instinctively understand how important dads are and how easy it is to overlook their important role in among the craziness of childbirth and the first few weeks and months of a new baby’s life. Parenting is a team sport and like any team game is best when everyone does their bit.

When I speak to new mums the subject of dads always comes up and as this report from the Centre for Social Justices shows, the dads are almost around. In fact 85 per cent of babies born in the UK are born to couples, and most of them live together under the same roof. A great untapped resource.

There are few periods of life more intense (and in neuroscience terms more important) than the perinatal period and months that follow. The more we can help new fathers, help new mums and take on the share of parenting the better for everyone, especially mum in this chaotic time. As data from this report shows, mums turn to dads for support to get through. Supporting fathers is important for babies and important for mums.

The NHS and local services are never going to be able to do enough to replace dads, nor should they want to. The best thing we can do is help fathers help their new family. Unfortunately this report shows that too many fathers say they feel ‘like a spare part’ and simply fail to be recognised when they are in the room.

Polling commissioned by the CSJ shows new fathers are crying out for better social and emotional support in order to be the great fathers they want to be. We need to ensure they get the emotional and practical support they need. Attendance at parenting and antenatal classes is increasingly a middle class thing, with low income fathers half as likely to go to a parenting and antenatal classes as higher income fathers. Half of low income dads say they are just left to ‘pick up’ parenting by themselves. This report calls on the government to pick a champion to close this ‘nappy changing gap’ and make sure our public services engage better with fathers.

This report has a simple message to government and to local services from hospitals to children’s centres – dads matter and we need to do much more to support them. That’s why I’m backing the big recommendation in this report for a ‘Dad Test’ for public services which would ensure every time we inspect maternity wards, health visiting services and local children’s centres we ask a simple question: what are you doing to help dads?

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