Before Allison Flynn-Bowman came home from the hospital four years ago with her newborn baby, she knew life for her and her partner would never be the same.
They counted on the usual sleepless nights and a schedule that revolved around this new, little person. Flynn-Bowman had a pretty good idea of what she as a mother would be doing: mainly breastfeeding her newborn and being always ready to respond to her baby’s cries.
But what she and her partner didn’t anticipate was an existential question that generations before her didn’t necessarily need to grapple with: what does a father do? How does a father factor into the very intimate bond between mother and newborn baby?
“During breastfeeding, fathers might feel left out or that they don’t have time to bond with their newborns,” says Flynn-Bowman. “They might have lack of knowledge about the things that they could do with their infants, or a lack of communication with their partner because things are sometimes tense in those first few months.”
Fast forward several years later and Flynn-Bowman, now a graduate student in Brock University’s Department of Nursing, is researching how to strengthen the involvement of fathers in the lives of their newborns.
Through a program Flynn-Bowman created called Dad Rocks Niagara, she and her supervisor, Associate Professor of Nursing Lynn Rempel, have come up with a method they think will help fathers develop better relationships with their newborns and partners.
The two researchers are looking for around 60 men in and around Niagara whose partners are in their final stages of pregnancy to participate in a study that will test out their method.
“We want to increase fathers’ involvement with their newborns and give fathers a program tailored directly for them. A lot of existing information and supports are geared toward new mothers,” says Flynn-Bowman.
The research involves the men filling out surveys and receiving information on a regular basis over six months.
There is also an optional Facebook group where fathers in the study can connect with one another.
The study is based on earlier research Rempel conducted in Vietnam. Funded by Grand Challenges Canada, the “Fathers Involvement: Saving Brains in Vietnam” study tested ways to increase the involvement of fathers in their infants’ lives as a way of improving infant development.
“Fathers in that study were excited to learn how they could interact with their infants right from birth and enjoyed using the study materials with ideas specifically for them,” says Rempel.
Flynn-Bowman says her research idea came from her own experience of being a mother and partner.
“We had challenges with breastfeeding and there were definitely times I wanted my husband to do stuff, but he was unavailable to help me and my children,” she says.
Negotiating fathers’ activities — such as changing diapers, walking with the babies, making sure mothers are comfortable during breastfeeding — before the children were born proved to be beneficial.
Men who are about to become fathers or whose newborns are less than two weeks old and who wish to participate in the study should contact: email@example.com or visit the the Facebook page at facebook.com/DadRocksNiagara