Father's Involvement During Pregnancy Found to be Critical to Infant's Survival
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Babies whose fathers are absent during pregnancy are four times more likely to die in their first year of life, regardless of the mother's race, ethnicity or socioeconomic status, according to a recent study.
They also are more likely to be born with lower birth weights, preterm and small for their gestational age, according to the study conducted by researchers from the University of South Florida. Additionally, pregnant mothers with uninvolved fathers are more likely to experience obstetric complications such as anemia, chronic high blood pressure, eclampsia and placental abruptio.
The father's absence increases stress for the mother, the researchers say, and can affect her behavior during pregnancy.
"If you're stressed more, you're probably more likely to smoke more during pregnancy," explains lead author Amina Alio in an interview with WUSF radio. "Also, you may not be able to attend prenatal care sessions for other reasons. So your behavior during pregnancy will be different because of the stressors."
As significant as these discoveries are, Alio says the most surprising finding was that infant mortality is seven times higher for black babies whose dads are absent during the pregnancy.
The reason for this disparity is not yet known, however, Alio suggests there are other stressors that impact African-American women.
"If the father is absent you're just adding more economic issues, lack of economic support, lack of emotional support and perhaps lack of social support from other families," she says.
However, Alio adds that the absence of the father during the pregnancy was found to affect birth outcome whether the woman was white, Hispanic or black; poor or rich; educated or not.
"One thing that I found interesting in our study is that we often make the assumption that things are worse with poor and uneducated women, especially black women," Alio says. "But in the study we found that educated women had the same outcomes as those with lower education levels. So it didn't matter whether you were educated or not, the impact was the same."
Though previous studies have demonstrated the importance of a father's involvement after the pregnancy, the authors say there hasn't been much research done in the area of actual birth outcomes, which is where they chose to focus their efforts.
In doing so, they examined birth records of more than 1.39 million live births in Florida from 1998 to 2005, defining paternal involvement by the presence of the father's name on the infant's birth certificate, according to the Los Angeles Times.
"Though this is far from a perfect measure of a father's involvement in the pregnancy, the methodology has worked fairly well in prior studies," Alio tells the Times.
Alio stresses that the health care system needs to send fathers a message that they really are important beyond conception. She adds that it's not to blame fathers, but to really encourage them to be involved in prenatal care and in supporting the mother during the pregnancy.
"Our study suggests that lack of paternal involvement during pregnancy is an important and potentially modifiable risk factor for infant mortality," Alio tells USF Health. "A significant proportion of infant deaths could be prevented if fathers were to become more involved."
Related: Co-Sleeping Plus Alcohol May Increase Risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome