Being a good dad begins the moment you choose to have a child, and that means the first thing you need to do is become an expert on pregnancy. Naturally, many men are clueless about what brewing a literal human inside a body involves, since most of them are incapable of doing that and their sexual education was more focused on killing embarrassing erections and avoiding STDs. As one recent study concludes, while men are generally enthusiastic about caring for both their unborn children and pregnant partners, “Their poor performance is due to the lack of knowledge or very low level of knowledge about various needs of the pregnant women and their own roles and responsibilities.”
Fixing this problem may be easier than it seems, though. A new study shows that men become more involved in prenatal care when waiting rooms at the OB/GYN offices they visit are decorated with guy stuff, like magazines aimed at men — this study specifically mentions Men’s Health — or photos of other men. “Participants who saw the fathering cues believed doctors had higher expectations of men’s involvement in prenatal care,” explains study author Analia Albuja. “Those men who believed doctors had higher expectations also reported feeling more comfortable in the father-friendly office and felt more confident about their ability to be fathers.”
Albuja believes this dad-boosting effect can be attributed to men feeling more welcome in these offices, as opposed to ones that seem to cater only to women. “The father-friendly space demonstrated to men that they were expected to be there, which helped disambiguate their role and clarified that they’re welcome,” she says. “Knowing that they were valued there may have helped them feel more comfortable.”
This study hits the mark, according to board-certified OB/GYN Yves-Richard Dole. “I work in a patient population in the City of Baltimore, where sometimes trying to get men to come into the office can be a challenge,” he explains. “Any environment where we can make everyone feel more included should be investigated. There’s a lot of wait time spent in waiting rooms, so any magazines that interest the patient population would probably help.” In fact, Dole says, OB/GYN offices should consider any little thing they can do to make men feel more welcome, including what they play on their waiting room televisions.
This is important stuff, since many benefits come along with men being more involved in the pregnancy, ranging from reduced instances of early death to improving the mother’s mental health. Studies also suggest that fathers who engage in prenatal care have better relationships with the mothers, participate in housework more often and accept more emotional support down the road, which is especially important considering men also succumb to postpartum depression.
As an added bonus, making these changes to OB/GYN offices is both cheap and relatively straightforward. “Our research suggests that doctors don’t need to remodel their entire office,” Albuja explains, reiterating that she simply added men’s magazines and photos of other men to the offices in her study. “The changes can be small and incremental, rather than a time-consuming remodel.”
Tom Milana, founder and chairman of Man Cave Health, an organization dedicated to creating more man-friendly medical facilities, seconds this approach, adding that donors are normally happy to get behind anything that encourages men to go to the doctor. “If you create an environment that makes the experience better, more men will go to the doctor, and I think the same applies here — more men will go with their wives,” he says.
As for what men can actually do to become more involved in prenatal care, that largely depends on whatever your OB/GYN suggests. Albuja does, however, mention another of her studies, which found that men who are involved in prenatal care and don’t smoke can help their partners avoid smoking. “Therefore, we recommend that men take up healthy habits, like avoiding tobacco and alcohol, during pregnancy in order to help both the mother and child,” she tells me.
In which case, perhaps the biggest takeaway here is that big parts of being a good dad are being present and living by example. You can start by paying close attention to the OB/GYN while they explain how the embryo does the hoo-haw and the thingamajigs and stuff.