More and more, we see dads-to-be at prenatal appointments who want to be more actively involved in their partners’ pregnancies.
As providers, we couldn’t be happier. Research from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services shows that children with loving, engaged fathers are much more likely to excel academically, avoid high-risk behaviors such as drug use, and have better self-esteem throughout life.
While society wants dads to be more involved, we must recognize that there are far fewer pregnancy and parenting resources geared toward expectant dads than toward pregnant women. For example, there are endless books, videos, and free apps designed for moms-to-be, but there are relatively few for men.
My colleague Michael Mackert, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Health Communication at UT Austin, felt that void when his wife became pregnant for the first time. Dr. Mackert downloaded a pregnancy app to follow along with his wife’s pregnancy progress, only to find that all the information was geared toward moms.
So, he teamed up with research and technology colleagues to create a new, free app just for expecting dads. I’ve invited Dr. Mackert to talk about the details and data behind their app, Father’s Playbook.
Let’s explore why this app and other dad-centric pregnancy tools are important and how providers and expecting mothers can help men get more involved to give kids a healthy start in life.
Dr. Mackert’s story: Creating an app just for dads-to-be
I was so excited to download a pregnancy app when my wife and I found out we were expecting. Then I got my first app notification: “Your uterus is the size of a grapefruit this week.” No, no it’s not.
Clearly, this type of messaging wasn’t meant for dads-to-be. As my wife’s pregnancy progressed, I couldn’t help thinking how nice it would be to have an app with content that’s relevant to expectant fathers. So, I teamed up with Dorothy Mandell, Ph.D., and other colleagues at UT Austin and the Texas Safe Babies initiative to see what it would take to create a pregnancy app especially for dads.
We started by showing a few male research participants popular mom-centric apps to get a feel for what they liked and didn’t like. Naturally, visuals of smiling pregnant women didn’t resonate with them – it’s human nature to subconsciously want to see ourselves reflected in the media with which we engage.
Once we got a feel for the images and verbiage that worked and didn’t, we created a demonstration website. Then the deep research began. We enlisted a third-party organization to enroll more than 900 men across the U.S. in a research study in which they would interact with the site and give us feedback through an online survey.
The results of our study were published in JMIR Pediatrics and Parenting in 2018. More than 80% of participants found the site useful and informative, and that more than 75% would be willing to share the site with other men who could benefit from the information. Using this information and participants’ open-ended feedback, we built the app and infused it with dad-centric content.
The Father’s Playbook app currently features earth tone colors and terminology men can relate with: “Your baby is as big as a raspberry” as opposed to “Your uterus is the size of a grapefruit.” We’ve also included checklists to help complete recommended to-dos, such as:
- Thinking about finances for baby’s first three months (plus a handy financial calculator)
- Need-to-know health information like infant CPR and signs of labor
- Learning about WIC and how to register if eligible
- Quizzes to help men gauge their understanding of the content
The free app is available for Android and iOS devices.
As dads, there is a lot we simply can’t do to help during pregnancy – we’re not the ones carrying the baby. But there is a lot we can do if we make time to look, ask questions, and learn. It shouldn’t be up to our partners to assign us jobs. We’re hopeful this app will help more dads feel more involved with their partners’ pregnancies and better prepare them for life with a newborn.
More resources and helpful tips for dads-to-be
Dr. Mackert hit the nail on the head. More and more, we happily receive questions about how expectant dads can help their partners during pregnancy and after childbirth. Here are a few recommended resources, plus a few helpful tips we often share with dads-to-be.
Resources for expectant fathers
- National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse: Run by the U.S. government, this site offers free videos, downloads, fun content, and serious advice for dads and stepfathers.
- The National Fatherhood Initiative: This website offers a library of free apps, videos, webinars, research, articles for dads.
- ZERO TO THREE: This organization promotes healthy emotional development for babies and toddlers. The site offers free resources for dads, moms, and the entire family.
Tips for dads-to-be
- Be a good listener: Even if your partner is a trouper, she’ll likely have days when she just needs to vent about pregnancy symptoms such as morning sickness, heartburn, or swollen ankles. She doesn’t expect you to fully relate, but she wants you to empathize with her. Try saying something supportive, like, “I’m sure that is uncomfortable. How can I help you feel better?” And make sure you follow through.
- Help with planning: Labor and delivery preferences are just part of your partner’s birth plan. You can help by filling in the details, such as taking note of who will be allowed to visit at the hospital and creating a contact list of VIPs you want to immediately notify about the birth.
- Take on some of the things your partner has traditionally handled: For example, if she always does the grocery shopping or mows the lawn, let her know you’re happy to take on those chores. This is particularly appreciated during the third trimester (and the fourth trimester after delivery) when she’s likely to be at peak emotional and physical discomfort.