-Written by Katie Little ’18
Much of the research conducted on the transition to parenthood focuses on mothers specifically. However, even though fathers do not go through the same physiological changes as mothers do during pregnancy, the nine months prior to the birth of a child are still a time in which fathers can imagine what the baby will be like and develop an attachment relationship to their unborn child.
Vreeswijk, Maas, Rijk, and van Bakel conducted a study in 2013 to explore the concept of prenatal attachment in fathers. They recruited a group of 301 expectant fathers and gave them several questionnaires, as well as an interview conducted in the home.
The interview, the Working Model of the Child Interview, revealed the fathers’ internal representations of their unborn babies. Internal representations are imagined versions of the baby and what life will be like once the baby is born. Each interview was recorded, and trained psychologists scored the fathers’ responses. They classified each father as belonging to one of three categories: having balanced representations, disengaged representations, or distorted representations. Balanced representations are open to change as new information about the baby becomes available. Fathers with balanced representations think often about the birth of their new baby. Distorted representations are not in line with reality and are often confused or contradictory. Fathers who have disengaged representations of the baby show signs of indifference to their unborn child.
The first questionnaire was the Paternal Antenatal Attachment Scale (PAAS). This scale measured the quality of attachment and the degree to which the father spent time thinking about the baby. The other questionnaires measured parental anxiety and depression. All of the fathers filled out forms regarding demographic information, such as age, whether or not the baby was his first or not, and education level.
From their study, Vreeswijk and colleagues found that fathers with more symptoms of depression and anxiety were less likely to have high prenatal attachment scores. In turn, fathers with lower prenatal attachment scores were more likely to have disengaged or distorted representations of their unborn babies. Fathers were more likely to have high prenatal attachment scores when they were younger and when they were expecting their first child. Interestingly, fathers with more years of education were less likely to have high prenatal attachment scores.
This study is significant because it highlights a relatively underdeveloped area of research.
Vreeswijk, C.M.J.M., Maas, A.J.B.M., Rijk, C.H.A.M., & van Bakel, H.J.A. (2013). Fathers’ experiences during pregnancy: paternal prenatal lattachment and representations of the fetus. Psychology of Men and Masculinity, 15 (2), 129-137.
Image Found: https://openclipart.org/detail/216920/ultrasound-picture-of-baby-in-womb