In 2007, important Department of Health (DH) guidance Maternity matters (DH 2007) set out clearly that midwives and other health professionals should engage with both parents as routine in maternity care, and make sure that both are well informed.
Since then, guidance both from the DH and NICE – for instance, on maternal mental health, nutrition, and supporting mothers with complex needs, and the recent Preparation for birth and beyond resource (DH 2011) – have all emphasised this requirement, as has the recent RCM guide Reaching out: involving fathers in maternity care.
Not only can fathers be a great support throughout pregnancy, birth and beyond (most mothers can’t imagine giving birth without their partner present), but it is now being suggested that fathers who are well prepared to support the birth can help keep mothers and infants safe where there are midwife shortages.
Evidence is also emerging that when maternity services engage with fathers, this can save the service money, for instance, when a father who would normally rush his partner into hospital at the first signs of labour, can help her stay at home until it is really the best time to go in.
But the best engagement with dads does more than just train them up in the basics of childbirth, it also prepares them for day-to-day, hands-on childcare and helps them work effectively with the mum as part of a positive, child-focussed parenting ‘team’.
Family Foundations (FF) is the Fatherhood Institute’s new programme of enjoyable ante- and postnatal participatory classes for expectant mothers and fathers, aimed at enhancing parent and child well-being.
FF helps to prepare couples for the transition to parenthood by fostering attitudes and skills related to positive family relationships. Its goal is to promote positive co-parenting (the way that parents support each other). Recent research indicates that positive co-parenting has a strong influence on parenting and on child outcomes. FF also covers emotion regulation, child temperament, promotion of secure attachment, and positive parenting.
Through these targets, the programme goals are to:
- decrease postpartum depression
- improve parenting sensitivity/warmth
- decrease harsh parenting
- foster positive couple relations
- foster positive child self-regulation
- decrease child behaviour problems.
In a randomised controlled trial, positive outcomes of FF have been found on maternal depression, father-infant relationship, co-parenting, couple relationship quality, and parenting quality. Positive effects have been found for infant self-regulation and emotional and behaviour problems at three years of age. For certain outcomes, FF had the greatest benefits for families at higher levels of risk (based on baseline levels of mother education, father emotional security, mother depression or couple relationship conflict).
We are currently trialling FF in 12 local authorities in England, where teams of health and early years practitioners are training to deliver the course to couples. The programme is being evaluated at three sites, and we are looking to roll it out further from April 2012. To find out more, contact our National Practice Development Manager Jeszemma Garratt by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call her on 07917 864130.
For a summary of the evidence base for Family Foundations read the ‘Family Foundations Overview’ attached to the following article:
- Department of Health (2007). Maternity matters: choice, access and continuity of care in a safe service. London: DH.
- Department of Health (2011). Preparation for birth and beyond: resource pack for leaders of community groups and activities. London: DH.
- Royal College of Midwives (2011). Reaching out: involving fathers in maternity care. London: RCM.
Contributor & Image: Fatherhood Institute