Academic journal article Fathering

Moving Up the "Magic Moment": Fathers' Experience of Prenatal Ultrasound

Academic journal article Fathering

Moving Up the "Magic Moment": Fathers' Experience of Prenatal Ultrasound

Article excerpt

Expectant fathers in the U.S. frequently accompany their partner to a prenatal ultrasound, yet little is known about how fathers experience ultrasound attendance. This is an important knowledge gap because studies have shown strong and consistent associations between a father's prenatal and postnatal involvement, and efforts to actively engage fathers at ultrasound may have longitudinal impact. We conducted semi-structured interviews with 22 fathers after ultrasound, analyzed data using principles of grounded theory, and built a conceptual model of how fathers experience ultrasound. Results suggest that ultrasound attendance contributes to paternal feelings of connection to the unborn baby and motivation to change behavior. Ultrasound appointments may offer an opportunity to engage men to promote positive partnering and parenting across the lifespan.

Keywords: pregnancy, prenatal, ultrasound, attachment, bonding


Evidence has accumulated demonstrating that fathers' parenting has an important influence on children's development and that fathers' influence on child development is distinct from that of mothers (Grossmann et al., 2002; Lamb, ed., 2004; NICHD Early Child Care Research Network, 2008). As such, expectations for men as fathers have changed. The former, conventional ideal of a father as a man who contributed to his family as financial provider, has given way to a new ideal of fatherhood centered on men's hands-on involvement with their children (Deutsch, 1999; Pleck & Pleck, 1997). Compared to five decades ago, men today are spending significantly more time on the day-to-day care of their children (Dienhart, 2001; Sayer, Bianchi, & Robinson, 2004), though still significantly less time than do women (Sayer, 2007).

The change in gender expectations for fathers extends to the role of fathers during pregnancy, labor and delivery. Sixty years ago, fathers did not play an actively engaged role during pregnancy and were rarely present during the delivery and birth of their children. Beginning in the 1960s and 1970s men were encouraged to take part in prenatal education and participate during labor, and today upwards of 90% of fathers are present at birth, where they are expected to reinforce what has been taught in childbirth education and act as advocates for the mother (Chan & Paterson-Brown, 2002; Enkin, Kierse, Renfrew, & Neilson, 2000; Premberg & Lundgren, 2006). Men are increasingly interested to be involved in their partner's pregnancy, and their increased involvement facilitates both enhanced support for their partners and opportunities for the couple to jointly navigate their transition to parenthood (Draper, 2002; Ekelin, Crang-Svalenius, & Dykes, 2004).

One emerging setting for paternal involvement is the prenatal ultrasound. To date, men's involvement in and experience of the routine prenatal ultrasound appointment has received limited attention. This gap is significant because a routine prenatal ultrasound between 15 and 20 weeks' gestation is an integral component of prenatal care in most institutions (Breathnach, Fleming, & Malone, 2007), and existing research suggests that expectant fathers wish to be more involved in prenatal care (Boyce, Condon, Barton, & Corkindale, 2007; Draper, 2002; Finnbogadottir, Crang Svalenius, & Persson, 2003). Ultrasound attendance may already be a normative experience for expectant fathers. For instance, in a survey of a nationally representative sample of households with children aged 10 and under, overall 76% of mothers reported that their youngest child's father was present at a prenatal ultrasound (Davis et al., under review). This means that prenatal ultrasound is a critical opportunity for contact with men in a health setting. Of note, mothers were less likely to report fathers' attendance at prenatal ultrasounds if parents were non-cohabiting, and if mothers had low household income. …

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