Parenting is the ultimate team sport, and I doubt if any mother wouldn’t welcome the love and support of her significant other when it comes to raising their child. In fact, numerous studies have shown that when fathers are a presence in their families, the impact can be significant in terms of early development, academic achievement, and the overall well-being of the child.

Now, it seems, that a father’s support can make a big difference even before their baby is born. Researchers have found that when a father is involved before birth, his presence can potentially lower the risk of infant mortality in the first year of life. The influence is particularly relevant for African American babies.

Seeking to analyze any ethnic or racial disparities in infant survival and health, scientists studied paternal presence during pregnancy. They found that lack of parental involvement during the time before birth was a risk factor for infant mortality. The data is significant because it describes a risk factor that can be modified, leading to the saving of infant lives.

In order to arrive at their findings, published in the Journal of Community Health, researchers studied the birth records of nearly 1.4 million live births over the course of 7 years (1998 to 2005). A father’s involvement was indicated by whether or not his name appeared on the birth certificate. While this may not seem like overwhelming evidence of a father’s presence, and for that matter, does not measure the degree or quality of his efforts, studies have shown that there is a link between a father’s information on a birth certificate and his involvement with his child.

The study indicates that babies with no paternal involvement during their gestation period had a greater likelihood of being preterm and having lower birth rates. When fathers were not involved, neonatal death rates were nearly 4 times higher than with involved fathers, regardless of race or ethnicity. Factors that contribute to premature births, including such complications as anemia, high blood pressure, and eclampsia, were more common in pregnant women when the father of the child was absent.

From a demographic perspective, expectant mothers with absentee mates were generally younger and less educated, more likely to be African American and to engage in certain risk factors like smoking and inadequate prenatal care. Even after adjusting for socioeconomic factors, the risk of poor birth outcomes was highest for African American babies with absent fathers.

The data suggests that paternal involvement is important at all stages of a child’s life, even before they are born. From the moment his partner becomes pregnant, a man can potentially influence the health and safety of his child. At the very least, it may portend a greater involvement on his part in the baby’s upbringing, which benefits everyone involved.