Having a new baby is not just about the arrival of a ‘bundle of joy’, whatever the welcome cards from friends and family might say. The reality for new parents can be very different with many challenges as well as the joys. A lot of research has already been conducted into how mothers feel about their new role, but until now fathers have been largely ignored. For the first time, researchers from Oxford University will work with NCT, the UK’s largest charity for parents, to conduct an academic study into how fathers feel about the new baby, both before and after the birth.
The study, funded by the British Academy, will focus in particular on the bonding process between new fathers and their babies. As from this month, researchers are looking to recruit first-time fathers living or working in Oxfordshire, who are interested in taking part in the study and happy to share their experiences. Through online questionnaires, the research team hopes to find out first-hand how new father feel about their relationship with the baby at key points over an eight-month period. Fathers will be asked about their expectation of fatherhood before the baby is born when the pregnancy is in its seventh or eighth month; and then later, about their actual experiences once the baby is two weeks, three months and six months old.
The researchers also want to see whether certain hormones in the body appear to promote or inhibit paternal feelings. Fathers will be asked to provide four blood samples in home visits. This should provide new information on whether the bond that a father has with his newborn appears to be affected by the presence of certain hormones.
The research team is aware that the arrival of a new baby can be an exhausting experience for the parents. They will do what they can to keep disruption to a minimum by organising home visits for blood tests and online questionnaires. At the end of the project, when their baby is six months old, the researchers will visit each father to conduct an end of project interview.
It is hoped that the findings will reveal valuable new information about how services can support and prepare families, particularly the fathers, both before and after the birth.
Previous studies about fatherhood have tended to focus on the effect of absent fathers on a child’s development. This study aims to find out first-hand what motivates fathers to take on the new role and how they find the reality of fathering a newborn –.emotionally, physically and practically.
The research team will be led by Dr Anna Machin, an evolutionary anthropologist at Oxford University with an interest in the neurobiology of human relationships. She said: ’A child’s development is strongly influenced by the relationships it builds during the early years of his or her life. Yet at the moment there is little understanding of the impact that a dad has. We hope this research will deepen our understanding. We are particularly keen to help fathers who find it hard to bond with their baby. We hope this research will help young children grow up to be secure, confident adults and give their fathers a positive parenting experience too.
‘Few studies have focused upon the father, and those that do have tended to go to the mother for information. This study aims to give fathers a voice and look at the important role they play.’
Mary Newburn, Head of Research and Information at NCT, said: ‘Becoming a father for the first time is a major life event, and men have their own needs as they adapt to this important role. NCT has a long history of working with new and expectant fathers, encouraging their involvement and offering support. We are pleased to support this study, which will tell us more about their experiences and feelings as they bond with their new baby.’