We asked four people working in health: How does the health system need to change to better support the needs and roles of fathers and potential fathers?
For many couples in Australia there is little opportunity to prepare for pregnancy. And while we can’t plan for everything, there are some things we, as health providers, can do to make this major transition into parenthood easier.
Our focus is almost exclusively with the mother and while men are increasingly attending antenatal appointments and parenting classes, there is a gap in the care we provide in general practice. More information needs to be provided to both parents about the journey in front of them — what it may be like, what changes it will make to their lives and how their relationship will change, not only with their partner but their friends, work colleagues and family. Men especially need more education around leave entitlements and where support can be found for their family.
While most of us in primary health are time-poor, encouraging both partners to attend preconception and antenatal appointments will give them both the opportunity to ask questions and feel supported.
Helen Storer – Practice Manager, Primary Health Care Practice Nurse
There is considerable social change around the roles of men and these changes need to be reflected in the way we work in the health system. We need to do more than see men as supports for their partners during pregnancy and the early years of their children’s lives. Not only do men have particular health needs associated with pregnancy and fatherhood, they also have a great contribution to make to the health of their partners and children.
If we are to strengthen men’s contribution to their families’ health, we need to change the delivery of health services. It’s essential that our health workforce has a greater understanding of men’s needs and roles, and of the challenges that they face during pregnancy and parenthood. We need a workforce that is skilled and comfortable in working directly with men as fathers.
Prof Bernie Marshall, Professorial Fellow – Portfolio of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Vice-President (Education)
Sadly, I often see fathers and fathers-to-be who don’t feel valued as an important part of the pregnancy. Whenever the consultation may be — whether it’s preconception health, pregnancy or postnatal checks, the conversation is almost always centred around the mother’s role and her needs. And while this is vitally important, it’s rare for there to be discussion about the importance of a father’s role or his health and wellbeing.
The health system needs to raise awareness, with both health professionals and men, about the significance of a father’s role — from preconception health to pregnancy, and especially the postnatal period. One in 10 men experience depression following the birth of their child. There is awareness around postnatal depression for mothers, but similar awareness needs to be created for the mental health challenges a father may go through.
Dr Gaurang Prajapati, GP
Evidence suggests that the health of men has a strong influence on the health and wellbeing of their partners and children. However, many men, fathers and potential fathers remain reluctant to approach or utilise health services because of the numerous, and varied, barriers and accessibility issues they may face. A lack of dedicated male health resources, GP clinics that are not ‘male friendly’, and the perception of some health conditions being seen as a weakness are all hurdles that the health system must overcome.
The health system needs to be more responsive and proactive in their efforts to align with the needs of men. When it comes to the health of the entire family, the case for change is a strong one: greater understanding of male preconception health and fertility, and better support during pregnancy, pregnancy loss and early fatherhood will lead to better health outcomes for men, their partners and children.
Dell Lovett – Registered Primary Health Care Nurse, Maternal and Child Health Nurse