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URMC / Clinical & Translational Science Institute / Stories / June 2019 / Dads Matter: Moms Aren’t the Only Ones Who Impact Babies’ Health at Birth

Dads Matter: Moms Aren’t the Only Ones Who Impact Babies’ Health at Birth

father holds and kisses newborn on the headWhen you think of things that impact a baby’s health at birth, moms might naturally spring to mind. And you wouldn’t be alone – most policies, obstetric care and research tend to focus on moms and ignore dads when looking at birth outcomes. But a new UR CTSI-supported study shows that fathers’ education level, age, and race or ethnicity can have a bearing on how healthy their children are at birth. 

According to the study, babies were most at risk for negative birth outcomes if their dads had less than a high school education. Fathers who hadn’t finished high school had about 35 percent greater odds of having a premature newborn and nearly 50 percent greater odds of having a low birthweight child (both major causes of infant mortality) compared to fathers who had more than a high school diploma.

And that was true regardless of moms’ education level – suggesting that at least some paternal factors could be better predictors of poor birth outcomes than maternal factors. 

“Paternal information is routinely collected during prenatal checkups, but this information has not been utilized to predict birth outcomes,” says study author Ying Meng, Ph.D., assistant professor at the University of Rochester School of Nursing and former UR CTSI Population Health Research postdoctoral fellow. “Our study suggests we might be able to make those predictions and prevent negative birth outcomes with programs that focus on – or at least include – fathers.”

Meng and study co-author Susan Groth, Ph.D., associate professor at the University of Rochester School of Nursing, examined a decade’s worth of birth certificates – nearly 37,000 – to find links between paternal factors and negative birth outcomes while controlling for maternal conditions like employment, gestational diabetes or hypertension, smoking, etc. They focused on major causes of infant mortality like premature birth, low birthweight, and babies born small for their gestational age, as well as high birthweight, which is linked to long-term health issues like obesity.

Their study shows several strong links between paternal factors and poor birth outcomes, which they hope might lead to new social programs that would encourage high-risk dads to play a more active role in prenatal care. For example, programs might provide support and information about how to lower the risk of preterm birth and low birthweight to dads with less than a high school education.

“There are few interventions that include fathers – and most aren’t focused on birth outcomes,” said Groth. “Future policies and programs targeted at improving birth outcomes should engage fathers in prenatal care.”

Because when it comes to having healthy babies – dads matter, too.

Read the full study

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For this study, Meng was supported in part by the UR CTSI’s Population Health Research Postdoctoral Fellowship under the University of Rochester CTSA award number TL1 TR002000 from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences of the National Institutes of Health. The Population Health Research Postdoctoral Fellowship provides one year of funding to study health outcomes and their distribution within and between groups of individuals.

Susanne Pritchard Pallo | 6/10/2019

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