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SMS 4 Dads heads to rural and remote Australia

4 Apr 2022

The call is out to all rural and remote health workers to spread the word to new dads and dads-to-be about a free text-based service designed especially for them.

2 An SMS4dads Promo Banner

Text-based infor­ma­tion ser­vice SMS4dads has already tak­en off in urban areas and is now tar­get­ing new rur­al, remote and First Nations dads. Since being relaunched late in 2021, the pro­gram has engaged almost 2000 dads.

Using mobile phones as the com­mu­ni­ca­tion tool has been a major part of the suc­cess,” says David Edwards who man­ages Resource Devel­op­ment for the pro­gram at the Uni­ver­si­ty of New­cas­tle, where the mod­el was developed.

There’s not a lot out there that speaks direct­ly to dads and this ser­vice is easy, free and user-friend­ly. Impor­tant­ly, the texts are not intru­sive but are deliv­ered in a way that dads can access the infor­ma­tion at a time that suits them.

Many dads don’t grasp how impor­tant they are for their part­ners and their chil­dren. SMS4dads reminds them of the key role they play and the things they can do to look after their baby, their part­ner and themselves.

The dads get three mes­sages a week, from as ear­ly as 12 weeks into their partner’s preg­nan­cy up until their baby turns one.”

3 Roy Steph with baby William Credit Ange Maloney

Roy & Steph with baby William. Pho­to Cred­it: Ange Maloney

While it’s easy to opt out of the ser­vice, over 80% stay with SMS4dads to completion.

David hopes that not only mid­wives but all health work­ers will sup­port the pro­mo­tion of the pro­gram, get mums to look at the web­site and encour­age their partners.”

Men are pret­ty new to talk­ing about emo­tions and par­ent­ing, and I think we are still find­ing our way even after fem­i­nism made some break­throughs,” he says.

When it comes to talks from the health work­er about preg­nan­cy and birth, lots of the dads still go out­side for a cigarette.

We’d love to see them encour­aged to stay and yarn, come to ante-natal class­es and find out about SMS4dads as well as oth­er pater­ni­ty services.”

Dads have been used to being both providers and pro­tec­tors, says David, him­self the father of two grown-up sons.

I’d like to think my gen­er­a­tion has paved the way for fathers to recog­nise the third role of nur­tur­er,” he says. Fathers are gen­er­al­ly doing their best, but so often it’s with­out much expe­ri­ence or role mod­el­ling. And that’s where this pro­gram can help fill the gap. One dad summed it up per­fect­ly when he said that SMS4dads was like a mate tap­ping him on the shoulder.”

1 Kaiden Powell with Yindyamurra 2 Credit Ange Maloney

Kaiden Pow­ell with Yindya­mur­ra. Cred­it: Ange Maloney

There are three pil­lars to the SMS4dads text messages.

The first is to help strength­en father and baby con­nec­tion and for dad to be more engaged in ear­ly par­ent­ing,” says David.

The sec­ond is to strength­en the mum and dad con­nec­tion. Team par­ent­ing is so impor­tant to give baby the best start to life emo­tion­al­ly and phys­i­cal­ly. Even if rela­tion­ships don’t last the dis­tance, it’s impor­tant to make sure dad’s con­nec­tion with baby and their mum con­tin­ues through­out the child’s life to max­imise child­hood devel­op­ment out­comes and avoid trau­ma around abandonment.

Third­ly, the text mes­sages sup­port the men as indi­vid­u­als. Mums are great at sup­port­ing each oth­er. We have to fol­low suit.”

The evi­dence-based, plain-lan­guage text mes­sages are devel­oped in con­sul­ta­tion with sub­ject mat­ter experts. They fea­ture easy-to-fol­low birth and par­ent­ing tips and encour­age­ment, devel­op­men­tal info, and tips regard­ing one’s own health and ways to sup­port one’s partner.

Our prompts don’t tell dads what to do,” says David. They sug­gest what might be going on and give exam­ples of how they can sup­port their new family.”

For exam­ple, week six after the baby is born, is often when bub finds his or her lungs. The dad receives a text that asks, Is baby cry­ing a lot?’ then reas­sures him that cry­ing is com­mon, nor­mal around this time, but if baby is cry­ing for very long peri­ods of time, sug­gests get­ting a check-up.”

An impor­tant com­po­nent is an inter­ac­tive text check-in – a mood track­er – which is par­tic­u­lar­ly use­ful for men who are strug­gling a bit, says David.

If a dad flags he’s not going so well, we text him and ask if he has sup­port. If the dad replies that he doesn’t and that he needs sup­port, we can con­nect him to a call-back ser­vice to pro­vide this over the phone.”

Health work­ers can find out more about SMS4dads at sms4​dads​.com​.au where there is an option to sign up for a brief taster’ expe­ri­ence of the mes­sages. Posters are avail­able to dis­play in the clin­ics and David is also avail­able for fur­ther infor­ma­tion and access to mate­ri­als (david.​edwards10@​newcastle.​edu.​au).