The emerging issue of father involvement in maternal and child health (MCH) programs is important. Fathers have always played a significant role and the time for organizations to stop overlooking the father role and include them in their programmatic work is now. According to UNICEF, Nigeria loses about 2,300 under-five year olds and 145 women of childbearing age every single day. This makes the country the second largest contributor to the under-five and maternal mortality rate in the world. Although recent research provides essential interventions that can avert most of these deaths, father involvement is rarely addressed.
Research on father involvement in Africa is not prevalent, but evidence has shown that father involvement has positive effects on MCH outcomes. Father involvement increases the likelihood that a woman will receive prenatal care in her first trimester by 40 percent and reduces a pregnant woman’s cigarette consumption by 36 percent (Martin, McNamara, Milot, Halle, Hair, 2007). Expectant fathers can be influential advocates for breastfeeding by playing a critical role in encouraging a mother to breastfeed the newborn infant (Wolfberg et al. 2004). Fathers who also accompanied the mother on a prenatal visit were more likely to engage in father-child activities later in the child’s life (Vogel, Boller, Faerber, Shannon, Tamis-LeMonda, 2003).
In order to engage fathers in MCH programs and services, public health organizations need to focus on the family as a whole. Families are the building blocks of society hence excluding fathers from initiatives can negatively impact children. In addition to further research on father involvement in Africa, social inequalities that prevent fathers from being present in the home have to be challenged. Public health professionals can help promote father engagement within family systems to support an atmosphere of paternal inclusion. Fathers are an important part of the family system and their contributions (or omissions) have a lasting impact on the overall welfare of the mother and child.
1. Martin, L., McNamara., M., Milot, A., Halle, T., Hair, E. (2007). The Effects of Father Involvement during Pregnancy on Receipt of Prenatal Care and Maternal Smoking. Maternal Child Health Journal, 11, 595–602.
2. Wolfberg, A., Michels, K., Shields, W., O’Campo,P., Bronner,Y.,Bienstock,J. (2004) Dads as Breastfeeding Advocates: Results from a Randomized Controlled Trial of Educational Intervention. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. 191(3), 708-12.
3. Vogel, C., Boller, K., Faerber, J., Shannon, J., Tamis-LeMonda, C. (2003). Understanding Fathering: The Early Head Start Study of Fathers of Newborns. Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. Available at: http://www.mathematica-mpr.com/earlycare/fatheroverview.asp.