September is National Infant Mortality Awareness Month. Infant mortality is the number of babies under one year old that die from any cause. Infant mortality rate (IMR) can be defined as the number of deaths during the first year of life per 1,000 live births in a given year or period. According to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), the top 4 causes of infant deaths for 2010 (our most recent data) were birth defects, disorders related to preterm birth, and low birth weight, and sudden infant death syndrome, better known as SIDS. According to NCHS, the infant mortality rate for the US in 2010 was 6.15 deaths per 1,000 live births. While this may seem like a low number, the toll to the families who are affected is enormous. We recognize infant mortality each September to raise awareness and remember those children lost.
As National Infant Mortality Month comes to a close, we reflect on the importance not only of mother and her health in rearing a child, but also on the importance of a father in a child’s life – a subject that is sometimes overlooked when infant mortality is discussed.
Fathers can have a large impact on how children develop and function. Research shows having an active father in a child’s life has benefits for both health and development. According to the Federal Administration for Children and Families Child Welfare Information Gateway, the National Fatherhood Initiative, and the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse, some of these impacts include:
- Children with active fathers are less likely to live in poverty
- Children that live in a home with their father show less aggressive behavior than children who grow up in a single-mother household
- Children who have active fathers are less likely to have behavioral problems in school
- Adolescents that live in a household without a father present are significantly more likely to be incarcerated
- Teenage girls who live in a fatherless home household are significantly more likely to experience a teenage pregnancy
- Children with active fathers do better in school and are more likely to get A’s in all grade levels. Girls with active fathers do better in math as well.
- Adolescents who do not live with either parent are more likely to use substances such as drugs and alcohol
As the information outlined above shows, it is important for both parents to be active in a baby’s life.
There are many ways for new fathers to be involved with a new baby and support new moms. This includes making skin-to-skin contact to encourage bonding, playing with your baby, and being encouraging and supportive during feeding. Breastfeeding has many health benefits for babies, and fathers can be included in breastfeeding by assisting – i.e. bringing the baby to mom when it is time to feed, and making sure mom is comfortable while feeding. Since breastfeeding isn’t always an option or if a family chooses bottle feeding, dads can participate by feeding the baby. After both breast and bottle feeding, dads can burp and put the baby to bed.
The Boston Public Health Commission’s Father Friendly Program promotes and teaches responsible fatherhood through support and education. The 12 week curriculum helps men learn skills to become more active and responsible fathers and assists them in achieving goals such as finding a job. To learn more about Father Friendly, watch our YouTube video and a client testimonial on the benefits of participating in the program.
For additional resources for dads, visit the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse, a website run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the National Fatherhood Initiative, and the Administration of Children and Families Child Welfare Information Gateway.