The Role of Fathers in Maternal and Child Health

In Maternal and Child Health on May 20, 2013 at 2:50 pm


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:

  1. This article points out a serious problem in research concerning MCH. In my final semester of undergrad, I took a special topics class developed around the MDGs and the father’s importance was seldom mentioned. Most research discusses the role of women and how their presence or absence affects the family unit and the community. If we are going to address MCH, placing importance on the role of the father is paramount. Men are often overlooked in studies, and programs for men in several disciplines are rare. The family unit cannot improve overall if the roles of all members of the unit are not researched in depth. This is a great article, and it is good to see people out there who understand that the role of men in the family and community is more important than a great deal of research seems to suggest.

    • Thanks for your comment, Kedrick! You bring up great points. Our goal is to encourage the importance of men in MCH because it is not the woman’s problem. Ultimately, we hope that societies can focus on strengthening families because strong families produce healthy families.

    • I’m a new member to this platform, and instantly this article captured my attention. MCH indicators are known to be very poor in Africa, more so in the Sub Saharan region; For many decades countries have been trying to arrive at a solution but in vain. In my country, Uganda, various strategies were adopted since early 90’s including training the Traditional Birth Attendants to try to avert maternal and infant deaths but instead we saw arise in the maternal mortality rates. More Health facilities have been constructed in the rural communities, for every 5km radius, but less mothers come to deliver in these facilities; The Village Health Team (VHTs) strategy was adopted in the early 2000’s in order to refer mothers for MCH services, but up to now, these indicators have remained poor.

      However, there is an observed relationship with these poor MCH indicators; that is there is low male involvement reproductive health activities. The engendering advocates have focused more on the female partners, leaving the male partners redundant, and this has slowly distanced men from participating in MCH programmes.

      I suggest that we the public health practitioners need to refocus on the need to include men in MCH programmes. Male partners as stated by Kedrick, are influential members of the family. To make this happen, there should be several research on this paradigm in order to advocate for a change in the mind set of both leaders and medical practitioners an include men friendly activities in MCH programming.

      Iam currently investigating a related issue; ‘the extent to which female partners influence the uptake of safe male circumcision in traditionally non circumcising community’.

      Lastly, i’m surprised by inadequate attention to this very key post, that would require alot of opinions from group members! We need to think out of the box in order to improve MCH indicators in Africa


  2. Welcome Sam and thanks for your comment! We hope your investigation is a success because father involvement in MCH is important. Awareness is crucial and we definitely need to think out of the box to improve MCH indicators in Africa.

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