The Father's Role with Preterm and
Michael W. Yogman, M.D., M.Sc.
Ten years of research on the father's relationship with healthy fullterm infants has changed our thinking about the father's importance in early development and has offered a new starting point from which to study the father's relationship with premature infants. Therefore, I first briefly review the evidence for the competence of healthy fathers and infants to interact with each other, Highlighting the similarities in behavior and psychological experience between competent fathers and mothers. I then briefly describe what is known about what fathers and infants actually do together and discuss influences on actual paternal involvement. My major focus is on the influence of stress, particularly the stress of the birth of a premature infant on the father-infant relationship.
Within contemporary Western society, the evidence that fathers and infants can and do
develop a meaningful relationship right from birth is impressive. Fathers start out as similar to mothers in their competence and capability to interact with young infants. Their sensitivity to the baby's behavior and rhythms is almost identical to that of mothers. Even evidence from studies of primate behavior have demonstrated that caregiving is not exclusively maternal. In some species, such as the marmoset, a New World monkey, the male is the primary caregiver (Chivers, 1972; Hampton et al., 1966; Ingram, 1978).
Similarity between the psychological experience of infant care for mothers and fathers is striking and begins even prior to birth (Bibring, 1959; Gurwitt, 1976; Ross, 1975), and includes similarities in prenatal physical symptoms and complaints (Lipkin and Lamb, 1982).
Furthermore, fathers and mothers display similar behaviors when interacting with their newborns after birth. Studies by Parke and Sawin (1975, 1977) of father-newborn interaction in the postpartum period suggest that fathers and mothers are equally active and sensitive to newborn cues during the postpartum period. Not only do fathers and mothers share the exhilaration of the prenatal period, but they also share the lows or the normative postpartum blues of this period. In an interview study of men in the first few weeks postpar____________________