Ault says ideally, programs offer examples of new fatherhood from veteran fathers. Often, these are men who have gone through the program and come back when their babies are aged around 3 months to volunteer. They bring the baby, talk about what life has looked like for the last few months, and care for the baby on their own during the 3-hour session.
“It’s a perfect example of what their life will look like several months from now. These are examples most of us don’t have going into this,” Ault says. “For 3 hours, they’re just sort of immersed in what it looks like for a man to do all of this.”
Garfield agrees, adding the key to prenatal programs for fathers is offering them an opportunity to get involved early, and offering support to learn about how to care for baby, but also in the journey of new fatherhood.
“I am from Chicago so I borrow a famous phase and tweak it for fathers when I say ‘get in early and get in often’ with your baby. Fathers will become confident in caring for their children once they get their hands literally dirty and get involved in the day to day care of the baby,” Garfield says. “That is a benefit for mothers, who now can take a break from all things except breastfeeding or pumping, for children, who get time with their other parent, and for the father himself who can form a unique bond with the child.”
There is also a bond shared among the fathers in the program, he adds.
“There is power in bringing a group of men who are expecting or have recently become fathers. In my experience they quickly form bonds around this transition to fatherhood—whether this is with a full term infant or even an infant in the neonatal intensive care unit,” Garfield says. “Creating that space, making it safe to share openly one’s experience, and even to have fun and laugh is important as ways to support men. I’ve found men are more comfortable engaging side-by-side instead of face-to-face, so having something else to do for the men in the program while they are learning or talking can be helpful.”
Although pediatricians most often engage with families after a baby is born, Ault says there is an opportunity to suggest prenatal classes for the father when parents come to meet and select their pediatrician.
“I see that as a potential on-ramp for the pediatrician,” Ault says. “After the baby is born, a father’s pattern of involvement sets in fairly quickly. That’s why it’s good to set a pattern before the baby is born. There’s nothing better a pediatrician can do for the family than to get a father really hands-on involved. The family is only more likely to flourish when that happens.”