Men's psychological transition to fatherhood: an analysis of the literature, 1989-2008

Birth. 2009 Dec;36(4):305-18. doi: 10.1111/j.1523-536X.2009.00358.x.


Background: The most recent review on men's transition to fatherhood was published in 1986. The present paper reports on how the literature has portrayed fatherhood over the past 20 years. The aim was to investigate men's psychological transition to fatherhood from pregnancy of the partner through the infant's first year of life.

Methods: The PsycINFO, PubMed, MEDLINE, Ingenta, Ovid, EMBASE, and WoS databases were accessed to conduct a literature search on the topic. The concepts of self-image transformation, triadic relationship development, and social environment influence were used to examine the complexity of the fatherhood transition process. Specific focus was placed on men's intrapsychic relational and social dimensions.

Results: Our analysis of the yielded results revealed three specific fatherhood stages: prenatal, labor and birth, and postnatal periods. Partner pregnancy was found to be the most demanding period in terms of psychological reorganization of the self. Labor and birth were the most intensely emotional moments, and the postnatal period was most influenced by environmental factors. The latter was also experienced as being the most interpersonally and intrapersonally challenging in terms of coping with the new reality of being a father.

Conclusions: Men's transition to fatherhood is guided by the social context in which they live and work and by personal characteristics in interplay with the quality of the partner relationship. Men struggle to reconcile their personal and work-related needs with those of their new families.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Father-Child Relations
  • Fathers / psychology*
  • Female
  • Gender Identity
  • Humans
  • Labor, Obstetric / psychology
  • Life Change Events
  • Male
  • Men / psychology*
  • Nursing Methodology Research
  • Paternal Behavior
  • Postpartum Period / psychology
  • Pregnancy / psychology
  • Research Design
  • Self Concept
  • Social Environment