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We need to do more to support fathers in early parenthood

3 min read

Women face enormous challenges during maternity – but there remains a significant gap in the recognition and value of paternity, writes Tracey Crouch

Nearly three years ago next month I gave birth to my son Freddie. His father and I are committed partners but unmarried and no-one really cares. In the same way I don’t care about one of my best friend’s having had a baby by herself or my gay friend having had two surrogate children, or a heterosexual couple having used a surrogate mother to carry their two adorable girls.

In many respects, society has evolved to such an extent that what would have caused consternation two or three decades ago barely gets a raised eyebrow these days. What hasn’t changed much though is the way we then support this more fluid family network, and as one whose other half took three months shared parenting, I am pleased to be leading a debate on Wednesday on the role of fathers in the perinatal period and early parenthood. This debate comes as the NHS looks to re-configure maternity services for the next decade and major report from the Centre for Social Justice looking at the role of fathers during this critical period.

While I recognise there are still enormous challenges that many women face during maternity, there remains a significant gap in the recognition and value of paternity. According to the most recent National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit survey of mothers’ views of maternity care, a substantial number of fathers were around during the pregnancy period, with 84% attending the ‘20 week’ scan and 87% attending the birth.

As data from the Centre for Social Justice shows, mums in traditional relationships turn to dads for support to get through, but unfortunately new polling of UK fathers conducted by Survation shows just how far we have to go to engage fathers effectively. Almost seven out of ten new fathers said they thought they “were made to feel like a ‘spare part’ during the pregnancy period”. Only a third of fathers reported any healthcare professional talking to them about their role as a father with a similar, if only slightly better, story when it comes to Health Visitors or Children’s Centres.

In an analysis of inspection frameworks related to maternity services, Health Visitors, and Children’s Centres, there were few direct mentions of ‘fathers’. In the inspection framework for maternity services, the word ‘father’ is conspicuously absent – despite the Department for Health and Social Care’s own guidance strongly emphasising the importance of fathers.

But my debate will talk about more than what does or doesn’t happen on the maternity ward and look at how we support fathers in early parenthood, including the challenges of shared parenting, employer views on flexible working for dads, the perils of “mother and baby” groups and the increasing phenomenon of paternal loneliness.

And all against the backdrop of us as mothers, wives, partners and society expect our men to be doing more to help bring up our children because it is proven that the involvement of the father is good for their overall wellbeing.

Other countries are doing this better than us, so the debate will also touch on what we can learn from them and what should government be doing to help support fathers during this important development stage for our children and how can we all benefit as a consequence.

Tracey Crouch is Conservative MP for Chatham and Aylesford. MPs will debate supporting fathers in early parenthood on Wednesday at 9.30am

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