While the impacts of paternal care are often overlooked, fathers actually play a crucial role in improving child health. As men increasingly take on caregiving roles in their households—providing emotional support and performing domestic chores in addition to their traditional role of providing financially—we are seeing that paternal care in a child’s first year of life has a strong influence on developmental and health outcomes.1
Interventions within the first week of life are especially critical to ensure a newborn’s survival; for the low birth weight (LBW) baby, special care continues to be needed throughout the first month. Between 60-80% of newborn deaths occur in LBW and premature babies, and such infants are approximately 20 times more likely to die compared to heavier babies. Preterm birth is the leading cause of newborn deaths.2 While in many countries “incubator care” is the standard for LBW infants, this option is not widely available in many developing countries.
To address this, MCHIP promotes Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC), a scientifically effective technique that reduces newborn mortality and morbidity due to LBW or prematurity. KMC, which involves skin-to-skin contact between infants and their caregivers and adequate breastfeeding, helps to regulate temperature, increase weight, extend the duration of breastfeeding, and reduce the risk of infection and breathing difficulties.3 MCHIP currently supports 10 KMC programs in 8 countries.
And while KMC caregivers are primarily mothers, fathers are increasingly taking on this crucial role in improving the health of their newborns. A 2009 study showed that having both parents directly involved in providing KMC to LBW babies improves the caregiving environment for the child.4 Moreover, fathers who perform KMC indicate that their use of the technique helped them to better transition into their paternal role and increased their competence in caring for their newborn.5,6
This Father’s Day, let’s renew our commitment to improving both maternal and paternal care for preterm births and LBW babies. We celebrate those fathers around the world who are already sharing with their wives in the responsibility of ensuring the survival of their preterm babies by practicing KMC, and encourage more fathers to do the same.
Joseph de Graft-Johnson
MCHIP Newborn Health Team Leader
1 United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Men In Families and Family Policy in a Changing World. 2011 2 Born Too Soon: The Global Action Report on Preterm Birth. May 2012 3 USAID/MCHIP. Kangaroo Mother Care Implementation Guide. 2012 4 Tessier R, Charpak N, Giron M, Cristo M, de Calume ZF, Ruiz-Pelaez JG. Kangaroo Mother Care, home environment and father involvement in the first year of life: a randomized controlled study. Acta Paediatrics. 98(9): 1444-1450. 2009 5 Blomqvist YT, Rubertsson C, Kylberg E, Joreskog K, Nyqvist KH. Kangaroo Mother Care helps fathers of preterm infants gain confidence in the paternal role. Journal of Advanced Nursing. 2011 6 Charpak N, Ruiz-Pelaez JG, de Figueroa CZ, Charpak Y. Kangaroo mother versus traditional care for newborn infants ≤ 2000 grams: a randomized, controlled trial. Pediatrics. 100(4): 682-8. 1997