NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — Sometimes small changes can make a big difference. Such is the case with props in a doctor’s office. Many OB-GYN waiting rooms are filled with tender images of moms and their babies, but where are the dads? According to a new Rutgers University study, transforming tentative and uneasy dads into involved ones may be as simple as refreshing magazine racks with a balance of guy-friendly literature, and placing some photos of dads with their kids around the doctor’s office.
“Research suggests that father involvement during pregnancy causes psychological and physical health benefits for mothers and children, yet fathers often don’t get involved during that crucial period.” says lead researcher Analia Albuja, a graduate student of social psychology at the university, in a university release.
Researchers blame the problem on lower societal expectations placed on men and believe that when men feel left out during the prenatal period, they are less involved in the pregnancy.
One possible remedy might begin with visual cues, researchers hypothesized. They wanted to know whether men who see more balanced images of both parents in OB-GYN offices would see themselves as future dads and become more involved in the prenatal care leading up to parenthood.
Participants were men who either viewed or visited one of two simulated prenatal waiting rooms with their pregnant partners. One of the rooms had the traditional mother-and-child décor, along with magazines and other information that appeal to women. The second waiting room had a mix of the former items along with photos of dads and babies, as well as magazines and pamphlets intended for guys.
Researchers found that men were influenced by these small changes in ambiance. Those visiting the more balanced waiting rooms reported feeling that medical professionals expected them to be more involved in prenatal care. Those who visited the more traditional mom-oriented waiting rooms did not feel as connected to the process.
Study authors say this shift in perception about doctor’s expectations also boosted men’s confidence in their role as dads. They became more curious about the pregnancy and more willing to make such changes as not smoking and not consuming alcohol during the pregnancy.
Researchers believe these study results demonstrate how easy and inexpensive it might be to invite men into their roles as dads early on.
“If this intervention increases men’s involvement in prenatal care, previous research suggests this should bring about healthier outcomes for women and infants, such as lower alcohol and tobacco use among mothers, and a lower likelihood of low birth weight infants,” concludes co-author Diana Sanchez, professor of psychology at the university’s New Brunswick’s School of Arts and Sciences.
Study results are published in the journal Plos One.