FCHIP Fathers Day 2022 Report

Happy Father’s Day to all of the dads and paternal figures out there. We know that dads play an important role in the family and this year we want to highlight the exciting new research on fatherhood, programs for fathers, and fatherhood innovation.

Juneteenth and Father's Day

Juneteenth, a new federal holiday to honor and commemorate the emancipation of African American slaves in the United States falls for the first time on Father’s Day. In this section, we take this opportunity to focus on the positive ways black fathers contribute to their families' wellbeing.

New Science on New Fathers

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For many years, a main focus of transition to parenthood research has been on the biological changes that occur to mothers; however, growing research indicates that men also experience changes as they become fathers. Recent research suggests that when stress hormone levels are lower, fathers engage in higher-quality parenting. Another hormone, oxytocin is also related to involved fathering, with increases after a child is born. Oxytocin, often referred to as a “love” hormone, also increases when fathers have physical contact with their babies, which may help to facilitate bonding between dad and baby. Further, testosterone, which declines in new fathers and is related to parent caregiving, is lower in fathers who had involved fathers growing up, showing that the biological changes of fatherhood are complex and that being a caring father may help sons be more engaged parents themselves.

Studies on the brains of new dads indicate that hormones aren’t the only thing changing during the transition to fatherhood. Changes in men's brains and an emerging “paternal brain” can be seen even when men are expecting babies, with areas linked to emotion (frontal gyrus in the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala), activated when men view babies playing with a caring adult. Further, prenatal activation in areas of the prefrontal cortex (medial prefrontal cortex) related to empathy predict father-infant bonding and positive parenting. Emerging research suggests another brain region related to hormone production and caregiving, the hypothalamus, is larger in fathers who enjoy parenting.

One recent publication compiled research on the “paternal brain” and how fathers respond to parenthood via biological changes in hormones and brain activity.

Innovation: "Fathers and Babies" Offers Opportunities for Home Visiting Programs

The Fathers and Babies (FAB) program, created by the Mothers and Baby Team at Northwestern University, focuses on supporting the mental health of fathers and their partners. Aimed at fathers and their partners in Home Visiting Programs, the goals of the FAB program are to educate fathers with the skills to manage stress, develop healthy attachments, and create healthy parenting behaviors. FAB’s approach is unique to home visiting and early data collection is already showing positive results. To find out more about the Fathers and Babies (FAB) project and opportunities to use in home visiting or other programs, click here.

Safe Sleep, Vaccines, and Fathers

As part of a collaboration between FCHIP and Lurie Children’s Voices of Child Health in Chicago (VOCHIC), we present data from Chicago parents on infant sleep practices and childhood vaccines by gender. More than half of the 692 Chicago parents surveyed reported engaging in one or more unsafe sleep practices, with similar rates for mothers (57%) and fathers (59%). More fathers (31%) than mothers (21%) reported placing baby not on their back to sleep. Some of the most frequent unsafe sleep practices included having baby sleep in a parent’s bed (41% mothers; 32% fathers), with a loose blanket (46% mothers; 45% fathers), and with a pillow (25% mothers; 39% fathers). Overall, although most parents did engage in one or more unsafe sleep practices, most mothers and fathers did correctly place baby to sleep on their back. Fathers were significantly more likely to incorrectly place baby not on back to sleep, or to place a pillow or stuffed animal in bed with baby compared to mothers, so while education about infant safe sleep for both parents is needed, fathers can benefit from additional supports to learn how to keep babies safe during sleep. Additional information about VOCHIC and infant sleep practices can be found here.

For parents of older children, COVID childhood vaccines are available, but both mothers and fathers report different levels of intention based on age. For younger children (ages 5-11), both fathers (18% already vaccinated, with 70% very or somewhat likely to vaccinate) and mothers (8% already vaccinated, with 68% very or somewhat likely to vaccinate) reported high levels of vaccine intention, although more mothers (23%) than fathers (12%) reported it was unlikely they would vaccinate their children. For older children (ages 12-17), rates of already being vaccinated were much higher for both mothers (63%) and fathers (56%), with mothers more likely to report unlikelihood of vaccination (15%) compared to fathers (9%). Overall, for the 5-11 group,77% of mothers and 88% of fathers had either vaccinated or had some intention to, while for the 12-17 group, 85% of mothers and 91% of fathers had either vaccinated or had some intention to vaccinate their children for COVID, showing high levels of vaccine acceptance for parents overall. Additional information about VOCHIC and COVID-19 childhood vaccines can be found here.

Innovation: "Prams for Dads," A Public Health Surveillance System as Men Transition into Fatherhood

PRAMS for Dads is a public health survey used to collect information about fathers' health, behaviors, and experiences during the transition to fatherhood. The goal of the survey is to collect health data to better understand how fathers influence the lives and health of their families, and to use this information to create research and policies to support fathers and families during the perinatal period. The first PRAMS for Dads in Georgia was piloted in 2018-2019 with FCHIP researchers, Georgia Department of Public Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, collecting data from new fathers for the first time to understand and capture the health needs of fathers as a way to improve father, mother, infant, and family health and wellbeing. FCHIP is currently working with Georgia to return to data collection for the next phase of PRAMS for Dads, and with the states of Ohio and Massachusetts to scale-up the PRAMS for Dads survey and increase knowledge of new fatherhood. For more information about PRAMS for Dads, contact us at FCHIP@luriechildrens.org.

Innovation: Fathering Together

Fathering Together is a new nonprofit program encouraging all those who identify as fathers to be powerful advocates for positive change in their families and in their communities. This program focuses on creating communities for fathers and helps provide resources. Fathering Together can also support dads by offering free coaching sessions to navigate fatherhood challenges.

While this FCHIP report focuses on male dads in general, we want to acknowledge that fathers and families vary in terms of structure, gender identity, sexual orientation, and many other characteristics. We intend to explore and represent these families as part of our ongoing work because at FCHIP children thrive when families thrive. We welcome all feedback on the incorporation of family diversity into our work. Please contact us at FCHIP@luriechildrens.org.