Background: Early involvement of fathers with their children has increased in recent times and this is associated with improved cognitive and socio-emotional development of children. Research in the area of father's engagement with pregnancy and childbirth has mainly focused on white middle-class men and has been mostly qualitative in design. Thus, the aim of this study was to understand who was engaged during pregnancy and childbirth, in what way, and how paternal engagement may influence a woman's uptake of services, her perceptions of care, and maternal outcomes.
Methods: This study involved secondary analysis of data on 4616 women collected in a 2010 national maternity survey of England asking about their experiences of maternity care, health and well-being up to three months after childbirth, and their partners' engagement in pregnancy, labour and postnatally. Data were analysed using descriptive statistics, chi-square, binary logistic regression and generalised linear modelling.
Results: Over 80% of fathers were 'pleased or 'overjoyed' in response to their partner's pregnancy, over half were present for the pregnancy test, for one or more antenatal checks, and almost all were present for ultrasound examinations and for labour. Three-quarters of fathers took paternity leave and, during the postnatal period, most fathers helped with infant care. Paternal engagement was highest in partners of primiparous white women, those living in less deprived areas, and in those whose pregnancy was planned. Greater paternal engagement was positively associated with first contact with health professionals before 12 weeks gestation, having a dating scan, number of antenatal checks, offer and attendance at antenatal classes, and breastfeeding. Paternity leave was also strongly associated with maternal well-being at three months postpartum.
Conclusions: This study demonstrates the considerable sociodemographic variation in partner support and engagement. It is important that health professionals recognise that women in some sociodemographic groups may be less supported by their partner and more reliant on staff and that this may have implications for how women access care.