When Paul Raeburn graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with a bachelor’s degree in physics, he probably had little idea he would someday become an expert on the psychology of fatherhood, but that’s how his career has played out. He’s author of a blog (“About Fathers”) for Psychology Today magazine and he’s just written a book highlighting the lack of scientific research being done on the father-child connection. It’s the latest of several books by Raeburn that explore parenthood, health, and science.

Father with newbornIn his latest book, released just in time for Father’s Day 2014, Raeburn draws on knowledge gained in some of the scientific studies of fatherhood and a man’s influence on his children. The book, Do Fathers Matter? What Science Is Telling Us About the Parent We’ve Overlooked, confirms the value of the father-child relationship. It even identifies studies that show babies born to dads who are emotionally distant often face a pretty tough first year of life.

Some of the studies Raeburn cites in the book include:

The 2010 study by Prakesh S. Shah at the University of Toronto in Canada that analyzed data from 36 studies to see how fathers affect birth outcomes. Shah discovered babies are more likely to be born preterm or at full-term but of low birth weight when their fathers are older or if dad himself had been born at low birth weight. Either birth outcome increases the baby’s risk of illness or death in the days and weeks following birth.

Amina Alio, a professor of community and public health at the University of South Florida, discovered fathers involved with their partner’s pregnancy had children less likely to die during the first year than children born to fathers distant or absent physically or emotionally. Babies born to totally absent fathers were more likely to be born at low weight and prematurely. They were four times more likely to die within the first year than babies born of men fully engaged in parenthood.

In a 2011 New Zealand study, the children of obese fathers, especially fathers with excess weight concentrated in the abdomen, were 60% more likely to be born at low weight, regardless of the mother’s weight.

Additional studies have shown that prenatal care is often inadequate when the father doesn’t want a baby. That a man’s cigarette smoking during pregnancy influences the expectant mother’s smoking habit, which can adversely affect the pregnancy and baby. That disharmony in a relationship affects how well a woman cares for herself during pregnancy.

Medical research and medical care are heavily weighted in favor of pregnant women but it is becoming increasingly clear that fathers are a vital part of the pregnancy, too. By calling attention to the limited but revealing medical science of fatherhood, families and medical personnel may do well to strive harder to include fathers in ways that help each baby get a healthier, happier start in life.

Source: “Paul Raeburn / The New Science of Fatherhood.” Paul Raeburn / Do Fathers Matter? PaulRaeburn.com. Paul Raeburn. n.d. Web. Jun 24, 2014.