Fathers' roles matter too: an ethnographic study examining fathers' roles and the influences on their roles during labour and birth

Mary Longworth, Susan Kirk, Christine Furber

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Background: A narrative review of the literature on fathers' involvement during labour and birth found that two themes were identified: the roles adopted by fathers, and the barriers and facilitators to their involvement during labour and birth.
Aims of the research study: The aims of this study were to understand why fathers adopted a particular role, how much variation there was in fathers’ roles and to discover the influences on the roles they adopted during labour and birth.
Methodology and methods: The study adopted an ethnographic approach. Fathers accompanying a woman during labour were recruited via the labour ward and midwifery-led unit of one hospital. Data were collected using non-participant observation and in-depth interviews. A staged approach to ethnographic analysis was used, and the patterns of thought and action repeated in various situations, with different participants, were explored.
Results: While fathers appeared to adopt a variety of roles, their overarching role was 'protecting' the woman. Fathers adopted different roles in order to achieve their goal of protecting. While couples had expectations of fathers' roles, they did not always discuss them prior to labour and birth. A number of influences on fathers' roles were identified, including midwives, which appeared to change their roles or how they were enacted.
Discussion: This study has found that fathers adopted a number of roles during labour and birth; however, these roles were not static and fixed, but were dynamic and changed in response to the changing context of the labour room during the course of labour.
Conclusion: A number of recommendations for practice, research and policy have been outlined, which could contribute to encouraging fathers' role adoption during labour and birth. In practice, this study has the potential to initiate discussions on strategies that can be used by midwives to enhance fathers' roles during labour and birth.
Original languageEnglish
Article number102857
Publication statusPublished - 11 Nov 2021


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