A new partnership between HBF and The ORIGINS Project will allow researchers to study the challenges to mental and physical health fathers face during their transition to parenthood, and the impacts these may have on their child’s development.
Through its Community Partnerships program, HBF is providing $100,000 a year for three years to Telethon Kids to fund the Flourishing in Fatherhood project, which is led by Professor Bu Yeap, a member of ORIGINS’ Scientific Committee, professor at UWA’s Medical School and a consultant endocrinologist, alongside Professor Desiree Silva, Co-Director of The ORIGINS Project and Director of Research at Joondalup Health Campus.
While antenatal programs help pregnant mothers live healthily to enhance pregnancy outcomes, expectant fathers are often treated as secondary to fertility, birthing and parenting processes.
“A number of studies have shown that fathers provide important influences on child development in ways that are unique and independent to those of mothers,” Professor Yeap said.
“However, there is little research into the health of expectant fathers, their post-natal health trajectories, and the impacts of this on fathering and children. Understandably, existing research has often focused on the birthing mother.”
The Flourishing in Fatherhood project will recruit 600 fathers from the ORIGINS cohort and research findings will guide health policy, develop targeted interventions and improve support for expectant fathers.
Previous ORIGINS research made startling discoveries about the health of men after the birth of their child, identifying substantial cardiometabolic and mental health risks.
The effect of early referral of expectant fathers with identified issues on their longer-term health is unknown, meaning the ability to help them to flourish before and after the birth and improve outcomes for their families is limited.
“Whether these conditions improve or deteriorate following the birth of their child, how frequently new issues arise, and to what extent these are detrimental to the wellbeing of partners and development of their children is unclear,” Professor Yeap added.
Kristi Annear, who manages HBF’s Community Engagement Program, said the partnerships would make an ongoing, tangible difference to the health of Australians from all walks of life.
“Improving health in our community can take many forms and we want to ensure that our partnerships make a difference in particular areas of need,” she said.
ORIGINS participant and father of two, Jake Hammer knows how challenging it can be when navigating early fatherhood.
“The transition to fatherhood can be tough,” Jake said. “When Hugo (now two) was first born, I felt like I was giving up a part of my life, even though I was gaining so much too.
“It was tricky when Cara, my wife, was breastfeeding, as there was only so much I could do, as the baby was always attached to her.”
The Flourishing in Fatherhood study will also pilot a program to help fathers lose excess weight if necessary.
“Cycling and training were a big part of my life, and I just didn’t have the time for it when he first came along. It took some adjustment; life just became a lot more complex,” Jake continued.
“I did meet up with a few other Dads initially, mostly the husbands of the mothers’ group, and it was good to share our experiences, but the support network just isn’t there for Dads as it is with Mums I think.”