New fatherhood in a pandemic: Challenges and resources for new fathers and partners during COVID-19

By Ranjana Das

I have recently reviewed the growing set of online resources aimed at supporting mothers perinatally, amidst the impacts of COVID-19. These impacts are significant for antenatal and postnatal mental health owing to COVID-19 related anxiety, change in practices antenatally and during childbirth, social-distancing measures severely restricting women’s social support avenues and inequalities and turbulences at home where everyone is in some way locked down in the UK.

But what does this mean for those becoming fathers, and partners of those giving birth, at such a time? Resources for fathers’ perinatal mental health are scarcer than those for mothers in usual circumstances and very valuable work is being done by individuals (c.f. Andrew Mayers and Mark Williams) and organisations. As Paul Hodkinson and I have shown in our recent evidence to a parliamentary enquiry, new fathers might struggle significantly in the perinatal period, with limited support avenues. But COVID-19 generates additional trying circumstances for them. Numerous NHS trusts are using restrictions around birth partners’ presence at births and at antenatal appointments, owing to the pandemic. In addition, owing to the impacts on maternal mental health, which is already evidenced to impact paternal mental health, exacerbated anxiety for their partners may mean exacerbated anxiety for fathers, over and above their own anxieties for their partners and babies amidst the pandemic. Paul Hodkinson and I have shown how strong the imperative is, often, for fathers to think of themselves as providers rather than recipients of support, and might it be, that during a pandemic, such an imperative is exacerbated? Equally, like mothers, fathers are a diverse and heterogenous grouping, with class, culture and ability impacting how the pandemic affects them.

Are there resources for new fathers specifically at such a time?

  • The Institute of Health Visiting has published advice for health visitors to support family perinatal mental health at such a time, including fathers and partners.
  • Eve Canavan’s useful collation of online resources for mothers is useful as it includes various things that apply to both parents.
  • Likewise, in my own writing I include resources such as NCT’s online antenatal classes from which both parents might benefit.

In addition, dad-specific support avenues are opening up, some of which I wished to collate below. This list is growing and far from exhaustive but it demonstrates the rapid and significant effort being made by third sector organisations and community groups to support fathers

  • Fathers’ Network Scotland (FNS) is running a Facebook support group for dads’ workers. They are also seeking ideas and input from dads’ workers here.
  • FNS is crowdfunding to offer more digital signposting to men who need mental health & wellbeing support.
  • Dads Rock is running antenatal support groups for both fathers and mothers. They are also running free online dads’ hairstyle workshops each month
  • Dorset Parent Infant Partnership are providing online resources and avenues for support.
  • Dads in Mind are providing 1-2-1 phone support in Bristol, Bath & NE Somerset & S Gloucestershire for fathers via referral from their website and closed Zoom groups for Dads who live in these areas.
  • Leeds Dads’ facebook page is a useful resource – for instance their Ask Questions Live opportunity on 7th April.

In addition, mental health support organisations such as MIND or Anxiety UK, and organisations for supporting mothers at such a time continue to be useful too. Fathers, even online, and even anonymously, often struggle to disclose their problems, interpreting them to be less relevant and legitimate, so we must not assume that online fora offer a magic solution. But they are undoubtably valuable resources for new fathers to turn to at a trying time.

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