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More support needed for new fathers in the delivery room

UNIVERSITY NEWS LAST UPDATED : 15 MARCH 2011

There should be more support for new fathers who witness emergency procedures being performed on their partners or new-born babies.

That’s the conclusion of research carried out by Dr.Merryl Harvey, a senior lecturer at Birmingham City University, who has studied the effects on fathers whose partners have been involved in complicated births and/or whose babies require resuscitation immediately after delivery.

Dr Harvey, who teaches in the University’s Faculty of Health believes that frontline staff should be better trained in how to support fathers. Her study found that new dads often felt excluded from decision-making and were left feeling completely isolated in often frightening circumstances.

She said: “Fathers recognise that the priority in these situations is the mother and baby, but nevertheless some felt as though they might as well have not been there.

For some fathers, health care practitioners did not even give them any eye contact.” Dr Harvey noted that this may not happen everywhere, but it may well be indicative of the sort of experiences fathers have in these situations.

For her study she interviewed 20 new fathers who had witnessed their children and/or partners undergoing emergency procedures, and 37 health care professionals, including midwives, neonatal nurses and doctors. She also observed 22 deliveries as part of her research, which focused on one, unnamed Trust.

In interviews with the healthcare professionals, Dr Harvey found that most had had little or no training when it came to dealing specifically with fathers when emergencies arose. Some told her that they did not know what they should say to fathers when there were complications.

Her research, The experiences and perceptions of fathers attending the birth and immediate care of their baby was carried out between 2006-2010. She said: “Fathers’ most important need at this time is for honest and concise information from health care professionals. They also want guidance and encouragement about ways in which they could support their partner, particularly from delivery suite midwives. Although most fathers experienced conflict over the focus of their concern, they were usually more worried about their partner than their baby.”

Dr Harvey also found that the limited emotional support fathers received usually came from other family members, some of whom attended the hospital at the time of the birth.

Her study was carried out for her PhD which she studied at Aston University supervised by Professor of Health Psychology, Helen Pattison. It has been published in abstract form and Merryl is now hoping to carry out further studies across multiple Trusts to ascertain a more general picture.

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