Paternal Health and Wellbeing

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Aligned with FCHIP’s recent Mother’s Day Report focused on national and international maternal health and wellbeing, we focus the 2023 Father’s Day Report positioning fatherhood within the United States and across the globe.

We present research on domestic fatherhood issues, including work leave, equity, and media and research representation, as well as international fatherhood issues, including findings on health and wellbeing.

As the United States officially celebrates Juneteenth 2023 for only the second time and only a day after Father’s Day, we continue to recognize the integral role of fathers in families, with particular emphasis on highlighting and representing fathers of color.

United States

Father Engagement and Representation in Research and the Media

Historically, fathers have been underrepresented in parental research. While there is still speculation about the reasons behind this disparity, low-income and minority fathers are especially underrepresented. Furthermore, while the media portrays Black, low-income fathers as more likely to withdraw from their families, that reality is far from true. Limited research exists exploring this stereotype, but a 2023 study shows how there is no correlation between a father’s race and how their child perceives their level of engagement. By enhancing fathers’ presence in research (like with this study), academics can deconstruct the gender roles and stereotypes that influence public perception of fatherhood. While social structures may reinforce particular parenting dynamics – like mothers traditionally acting as “caregivers” – fathers can claim their role as caregivers and enrich their family relationships by challenging societal norms. One literature review describes how all parents (regardless of ascribed gender roles) can leverage behavioral parent training (BPT) to alleviate disruptive behavior disorders. With roughly one in five youth having mental health disorders, the social-emotional role of fathers could be more important today than ever before. The limited inquiry into fatherhood, however, prevents academics and parents from getting the “bigger picture” about how fathers can help with behavioral disruptions. According to the review, less than one-third of explored studies did not specifically report father engagement, and 15.4% of studies focused exclusively on father participants.

Working Fathers/Paternal Equity

Just like mothers, fathers are vital to the well-being of children and family structures. When thinking of fathers and the role they have within the family structure, it is important to examine and consider fathers parenting responsibilities through the consideration of their behavioral, psychosocial, economic and political factors. In most instances, fathers are idealized as the ‘Breadwinners’ and this modern day role of fathers is constantly changing. There is research that supports that families from all ethnic backgrounds that a fathers’ affection and increased family involvement can increase a child’s social and emotional development. In addition to being providers for the families, fathers should be able to take the necessary time off from the workplace to be able to spend time and support his family. This should be possible without carrying the burden of societal pressures and worries of family income and finances. Instead, the focus should be around supporting fathers to be able to balance their families and career.

Perceptions of fathers within the family structure may include the evolving topics such as paternal equity, specifically working fathers and paid paternity leave for fathers. In the United States, there is not a nationally mandated paid benefit for working fathers, unless offered through a private company. However, in the U.S., the only paternity leave that is currently offered is through the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). FMLA allows eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. FMLA may be helpful, however, still contributes to the burden of fathers of being able to support the families financially.

To Find Out More About Work Leave:

Global Fatherhood

A number of international studies have included fathers as a focus. One ongoing study in the Philippines with a focus on fatherhood biology, recently found that the relationship between sons and their fathers is related to adolescent physiology. In Australia, health professional training aims to increase paternal involvement using Plus Paternal, a project aimed at ensuring health and wellbeing of fathers. Using electronic health records, one recent study in the U.K. found that men who recently took antidepressants were more likely to receive similar treatment after having a baby compared to those without history of treatment, suggesting that fathers were more likely to need antidepressants after having a child if they previously needed them. Inclusion of fathers in understanding health include those focused on mental health and the role of fathers in the lives of their families. The International Marce Society is moving forward towards full inclusion of fathers in understanding and addressing perinatal mental health. Another project in Kenya recently piloted the Learn, Engage, Act, Dedicate (LEAD) intervention to address paternal mental health problems. To improve connections between fathers and children, the Growing up in Ireland (GUI) study examined father-provided data on engagement with children, father stress, father-child relationship quality, and the influence of fathers on child outcomes. They found that children do best with involved fathers, and that fathers were more likely to be involved if they worked less hours or had more work flexibility. Despite benefits when fathers have leave, and the increased availability of paternity leave outside of the United States, not all fathers with access take leave, even in leave-generous countries such as Korea and Japan.

Fathers Key to Supporting Breastfeeding and Safe Infant Sleep

FCHIP is pleased to present our latest research on fatherhood highlighting the role fathers play in promotion of safe infant sleep and breastfeeding. Now published in Pediatrics, our study found that breastfeeding rates were higher among families where fathers wanted their babies’ mothers to breastfeed, and that fathers were consistently placing babies on their backs to sleep, but not always using safe sleep surfaces and bedding choices for their babies.

“As pediatricians, we focus on how to ensure the best health outcomes for children, with successful breastfeeding and safe sleep practices being two key behaviors that impact children’s health. Our study highlights the fact that fathers play a big role in both these behaviors, but there is more to be done to support fathers.” - Craig Garfield, MD

Recent FCHIP research continues to highlight our family-focused approach to understanding fathers and families during the time of a new baby’s birth, including how maternal depressive symptoms are linked to father characteristics.