Recently published research revealed that prenatal ultrasounds are important experiences for fathers. The study by University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health researcher, Dr. Tova B. Walsh, and colleagues, found that attending the routine pregnancy ultrasound exam can help expectant dads connect with their baby and feel more involved. This ultimately encourages them to be positive parents and partners.
Including Fathers in the Pregnancy
Throughout the nine months parents are expecting, we tend to think of the role of the father (or the partner who is not pregnant) as the rock who comforts the mother-to-be. After all it is the pregnant woman going through substantial physical and hormonal changes, which can be simultaneously exciting and beautiful, but also frightening and grueling.
Moms-to-be need that support from their co-parent; meanwhile the needs or concerns of expectant fathers or partners might be overlooked. According to a BabyCenter article by clinical psychologist Jerrold Lee Shapiro, some common fears for expectant dads are questioning whether he can provide enough financial and emotional support for his family, worrying about his partner’s and baby’s health, feeling left out of the “powerful mom-baby bond” and the unease or unfamiliarity of OB-GYN clinical and medical settings.
“While all our fathers felt the mothers were receiving good care, about half of them felt excluded or ignored and wished that providers would offer them more explanation and opportunity to ask questions during the [ultrasound] appointment,’’ said Dr. Walsh of the fathers in their research study (as quoted by an April 24, 2014 University of Wisconsin-Madison news release) . “Because so much previous research shows that mothers and babies benefit when fathers are positively involved and supportive during pregnancy, they should feel welcome at an event that is their first interaction with the healthcare of the mother and baby.”
Benefits of Prenatal Ultrasound for Dads
Dr. Walsh and her colleagues at the University of Michigan interviewed 22 expectant dads, between the ages of 23 and 41, after they attended their baby’s prenatal exam. (Their study, “Moving up the ‘Magic Moment’: Fathers’ Experience of Prenatal Ultrasound,” was published in the latest volume of Fathering.) Based on the interviews, the research found that for both first time fathers and dads who already had kids, attending the ultrasound was profound. It allowed fathers to feel bonded to their unborn baby, reassured them that mom and child were doing well and also helped them prepare psychologically for parenthood, both for the near future and the child’s entire lifespan.
“The researchers found that peer encouragement from other fathers was important in making them choose to be present for the ultrasound…Reactions ranged from quiet excitement to euphoria… One man said, ‘My heart started beating faster just to hear a life—boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. It just felt like — the feeling’s indescribable, I was just blown away…The heartbeat is like letting me know it’s on the way, get ready’.” ~ University of Wisconsin-Madison news release (April 24, 2014)
Other Tips to Include Dads
In addition to attending prenatal ultrasounds, and other medical appointments, there are other ways for expectant dads to be involved during the pregnancy. Childbirth educator and certified doula, Robin Elise Weiss recommends several ideas in her About.com article “Getting Dads Involved in Pregnancy.” These include working on the nursery together, attending couples massage and childbirth classes, writing a letter to the baby together, touring the birthing facility together ahead of time, and having a baby shower with both parents as the guests of honor.
Open communication is key, says Weiss. It allows the parents to share their fears and needs, as well as their joys and excitement, so they can work together as a team. The pregnant parent can learn how her partner would like to get involved, and for the other parent to understand what pregnant mom is experiencing.