Abstract: Paternal Perinatal Support Behaviors Are Associated with Positive Birth Outcomes (Society for Social Work and Research 20th Annual Conference - Grand Challenges for Social Work: Setting a Research Agenda for the Future)

Paternal Perinatal Support Behaviors Are Associated with Positive Birth Outcomes

Saturday, January 16, 2016: 10:45 AM
Meeting Room Level-Mount Vernon Square B (Renaissance Washington, DC Downtown Hotel)
* noted as presenting author
Shawna J. Lee, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor, MI
Diana T. Sanchez, PhD, Associate Professor, Rutgers University, Piscataway, NJ
Introduction: Research has shown that lack of father involvement during pregnancy (e.g., no father on record, court-ordered paternity establishment) is a risk factor for infant low birth weight and infant mortality (Tan, Wen, Walker, & Demissie, 2004; Gaudino, Jenkins, & Rochat, 1999; Ngui et al., 2009). However, research suggests that to best discern fathers’ potential impact on the health and wellbeing of mothers and children is it necessary to take into account other aspects of fathers’ support (beyond presence or absence) during pregnancy (Page, Padilla, & Hamilton, 2012). Few studies have examined dimensions of fathers’ support during pregnancy as a potential protective factor for maternal and child health outcomes.

Method: This study uses data from participants in the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (FFCWS), a birth-cohort study conducted in 20 U.S. cities. We conducted cross-sectional analyses of the baseline interview, conducted at the time of the child’s birth. Our sample consists of non-married couples involved in an ongoing relationship (father and mother pairs, N = 1,340). We created a sum score of four items assessing fathers’ self-report of his perinatal support behaviors, e.g., “During mother’s pregnancy did you give her money to buy things for the baby?” and “Did you help in other ways, such as providing transportation to the pre-natal clinic or helping with chores?” We conducted logistic regression analyses of perinatal support behaviors as a predictor of child low birth weight. Models controlled for a comprehensive set of parental demographic characteristics, socioeconomic factors, relationship quality (e.g., interpersonal violence), and maternal and paternal health behaviors (e.g., smoking and drug use) that are associated with low birth weight. 

Results: Father’s perinatal support predicted significantly lower risk of a low birth weight baby. Specifically, for every perinatal support event increase on the part of fathers, the log odds of having a low birth weight baby decreased by 0.527, holding all other variables constant. This relationship held even after controlling for the strong and significant influence of maternal and paternal health behaviors such as cigarette smoking.

Implications: Results suggest that babies may benefit from greater paternal support to mothers during pregnancy. Interventions to support the health of infants can begin in the prenatal period. For example, social workers can counsel fathers on ways to support their partner during pregnancy. Future research should examine the mechanisms by which paternal support is protective, for example, by buffering mothers from the effects of chronic stress (e.g., Ghosh, Wilhelm, Dunkel-Shetter, Lombardi, & Ritz, 2010).