There’s been a significant body of research into the experiences of women going through childbirth. They can face serious health concerns – illnesses and sickness associated with pregnancy, injuries during childbirth, and issues after the baby is born like postpartum depression. But we don’t know a lot about the experiences, mental health and wellbeing of first-time fathers, which is why British researchers did a qualitative study of men to find out more.
The background to this study was that up to 16 per cent of men report anxiety during their partner’s pregnancy and depression rates in new fathers are double that in men of the same age without children. Researchers also argue these may be underestimates, as screening tools for this population aren’t well or widely used.
As this was a qualitative study, the researchers did in-depth interviews with 21 first-time fathers over four London boroughs. They were of various different ethnic backgrounds, socio-economic classes and aged from 20 to over 60. The goal wasn’t to find out every detail about these men. Rather, they just wanted to get a good idea of the main issues facing them to build a framework for future investigations.
Some of the main themes identified by the researchers were the ‘rollercoaster of fatherhood’ – feeling unprepared, or that the baby wasn’t real and various levels of disconnection from both their child and partner during pregnancy.
Many had positive feelings of a ‘new identity’ after their baby’s arrival and that they were a more resilient and stronger person. However, there were also the obvious feelings of tiredness, exhaustion and stress that come with parenthood and many new fathers reported difficulty balancing their work and home lives. Some men said they had difficulty knowing how best to support their partner and feeling ‘useless.’
As the researchers looked at the concerns of these men, they also investigated how they stayed well and supported. Many sought information from online sources, demonstrating the importance of good health information and advice.
Others said they would consult with their general practitioner, particularly for mental health concerns. But they also said GPs weren’t fully equipped to deal with the mental health issues of newborn dads, perhaps indicating that further training in that area is needed.