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Fatherhood 101 revised

By | Nov 26th 2009 | 3 min read
By | November 26th 2009

By Dann Okoth

New research shows men have a great effect on pregnancy, delivery and the well-being of a new-born than thought earlier.

Doctors say when fathers are involved in the prenatal care, the mother is more likely to have a healthy, trouble free pregnancy and birth.

The fathers are also more likely to be around for the long haul, whether they marry the child’s mother or not. And if they are not depressed the baby would be happier and cry less.

"Studies show that paternal birth support is responsible for a 50 per cent drop in C-sections," says Lillian Karanja, a childbirth educator at Aga Khan University Hospital, Nairobi.

"Paternal support during pregnancy and labour reduce the length of labour by up to 25 per cent and accounts for 40 per cent reduction in medication to stimulate labour," she says.

But spouses must have the skills to help the mother-to-be form a birth plan, including being close to her six to eight weeks before labour.

The partner would need to recognise stages of labour, positions of labour, and coping strategies for labour, relaxation and breathing techniques.

Meanwhile, Dutch researchers report in the journal Paediatrics that a crying, colicky baby could be mirroring the father’s state of mind. Other studies have found that depression among mothers can be related to excessive crying or colic, a common problem with newborns. However, it was not known whether a father’s emotions and behaviour also had an effect.

Prenatal effects

"Up to now, almost all attention went to the prenatal effects of maternal depression on child development, leading to the development of detection and treatment programmes that focused on the mental well-being of mothers," say lead researcher Dr Mijke P van den Berg, a psychiatrist at the Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam.

"Fathers do matter, so take care for the mental well-being of fathers during pregnancy," reports the study. To see how parental depression was related to excessive crying, the researchers gathered data on symptoms of depression among parents of 4,426 infants aged two months. Excessive crying was defined as crying for more than three hours a day on more than three days in the past week.

Overall, just 2.5 per cent of the infants in the study fit the excessive crying criteria. The researchers found a 30 per cent higher risk for depression among parents whose infant cried excessively.

Locally, more fathers are getting involved in the pregnancy and birth process. The Lamaze concept, for example, is now seeing more men gracing the delivery rooms, with varied but not insignificant medical benefits to the mother and the child.

Lamaze is a method of childbirth preparation that provides a positive birth experience of expectant families. It promotes confidence and competence as expectant parents prepare to meet the challenges and rewards of childbirth.

The role of a labour partner—who can be a husband, friend or relative of the mother—is crucial in this respect.

The partner has to be there for the expectant mother six-eight weeks before due date including during labour, delivery and after.

In the traditional African set up pregnancy and childbirth were important occasions accompanied by fanfare. "While the birth attendant massaged the expectant woman, others sang birth songs and chant praises. This gave the mother-to-be a sense of belonging. The warm company would also relax and expedite delivery. This was passed along the generations," explains Karanja.

But as society progressed and people moved to urban areas this traditional communal support for pregnant women was severed and young couples have to deal with their expectations alone.

Births in the urban areas take place in the hospital where there is minimal or no support. Hospitals like the Aga Khan have introduced a course on childbirth support for spouses or paid-up labour partners called doula to fill the gap.

The classes comprise six lessons of personalised instruction, a lactation course, practices based on most recent research and a review of current hospital practices. It includes nutritional assessment and weight gain, warning signs of pre-term, true and false labour. Also included are positions and stages of labour and coping strategies for labour.

"Initially most of our clients were foreigners but the number of locals are growing," says Karanja.

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