Planning for and having a child are life-changing events that focus families’ attention on health. While the health system importantly concentrates on mothers and babies, how well does the it cater for men’s health needs at this time? And what can be done to improve men’s involvement? 

The Plus Paternal: A focus on fathers project aims to improve the health of men and their families by increasing the engagement and support of men from preconception to early parenthood. 

Why is Plus Paternal needed?

We know that men’s health can influence their fertility and the health of their children. We also know that the transition to fatherhood can be a time of stress. Up to one in 10 fathers experience depression before or soon after birth, and anxiety is also common. First-time fathers often have limited knowledge about preconception, pregnancy, birth and fatherhood. 

Fathers and men considering fatherhood may want information and/or advice on:

  • Fertility
  • Sexual and reproductive health 
  • The importance of maintaining mental and physical health 
  • Risk factors that could impact on the health of their children 
  • Understanding and preparing for possible relationship changes 
  • How to support their partner  
  • Miscarriage or the loss of a child 
  • How they can influence child development 
  • The information, supports and services that they could access.
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We also know that non-birthing parents, most commonly men, are not systematically engaged or supported when couples seek to, or have a child. 

Reproductive health services support fertility, pregnancy, birth and parenthood. They include general practice, hospitals and services that support family planning, fertility, parenting education, maternal, child and family health. Each has the opportunity to engage and support men as they transition to fatherhood. However, for a range of reasons, addressing men’s health and information needs as they seek to, or become fathers, is often overlooked.

How will the project unfold?

Healthy Male began Plus Paternal in response to the National Men’s Health Strategy 2020-2030’s call for a more inclusive approach to parenthood and expansion of the maternal and child health infrastructure to be more inclusive of fathers. 

We plan to work with, and alongside, a wide range of organisations to help ensure the health and wellbeing of fathers is a key feature of our health system, and beyond. Along the way we’ll be sure to stress that efforts to acknowledge, engage and support men should not detract from, nor compete with, women’s health initiatives.

In the first stage of the project we worked to:

  • Establish the current situation for fathers in Australia, and  
  • Identify opportunities to improve men’s health and wellbeing.

Our findings have been documented in a Case for Change.

The next step is to work with government/s, organisations and the community to increase the focus on fathers — a change that will have flow-on benefits for the whole family.