A significant amount of research has been conducted on the experiences of women going through childbirth. They can face serious health problems – diseases and illnesses related to pregnancy, injuries during childbirth and postpartum problems such as postpartum depression. But we know little about the experience, mental health and well-being of parents who were born for the first time, so British researchers conducted a qualitative study of men to learn more.
The background to this study was that up to 16 percent of men report anxiety during their partner’s pregnancy, and the level of depression in new parents is twice as high as in men of the same age without children. Researchers also argue that this may be underestimated because screening tools for this population are not well and widely used.
Because it was a qualitative study, the researchers conducted in-depth interviews with 21 parents who are being raised for the first time in four districts of London. They were of different ethnic backgrounds, socio-economic classes and aged 20 to 60 years. The goal was not to find out all the details about these men. Rather, they just wanted to get a good idea of the underlying issues facing them to lay the groundwork for future investigations.
One of the main topics identified by the researchers was “roller coaster parenting” – a feeling of unpreparedness, or that the child was not real, and different levels of separation from the child and partner during pregnancy.
Many have had positive feelings of “new identity” and the fact that they have become more resilient and strong after having a baby. However, there were also obvious feelings of fatigue, exhaustion and stress that come with parenting, and many new parents reported difficulties with balancing work and home life. Some men said they found it difficult to know how best to support their partner, and felt “useless”.
When the researchers looked at the concerns of these men, they also investigated how well they remained and supported. Many have sought information from online sources, demonstrating the importance of good information and health advice.
Others said they would consult with their GP, especially on mental health issues. But they also said that therapists were not fully prepared to address the mental health of newborn dads, which may indicate the need for further training in this area.
For reference: Bruno et al (2019). A qualitative research study of the experiences of British first-time parents, mental health and well-being needs during their transition to parenthood. BMJ Open doi: 10.1136 / bmjopen-2019-030792.