This week, we celebrate the role of dads and how, as a dad, you can support your partner. We will focus on establishing and continuing to have a positive and strong relationship with your child throughout their early years and in the future.
Being a new parent can feel overwhelming. As a father, you are adjusting to your role in the family and to the responsibilities which come with this and at times this can feel very isolating. You may have grown up with the idea that men shouldn’t share their feelings and anxieties. You may feel that you should shoulder all the responsibilities that come with being a parent, particularly as a new parent. I hope this blog will give you some ways of meeting your own emotional needs as well as supporting your partner.
Things to do
Talk to your friends and family about how you are feeling. Look to those who will be supportive and not critical. You are doing the best you can and you need people who can value and validate your feelings. It is okay to feel stressed: it is exhausting being a parent but in time it will get easier. Take it a day at a time.
During the pregnancy, go with your partner to Antenatal Classes. This will help prepare you for the birth and for the early weeks. You will learn how to support your partner and also get the opportunity to meet other new dads who are likely to be as nervous and as anxious as you.
Plan ahead and talk to your partner about how much having a new baby will impact on you as a couple. Start identifying ways you, as the father, can support your partner (emotionally and physically) and how you will be involved in your baby’s care. Share with them that you want to have a positive attachment to your child and talk about how this can be achieved.
After the baby is born, accept help from family and friends. Embrace offers for support; people want to help. Talk about what support would be useful. It may be someone looking after the baby for an hour here or there. It could be that someone has offered to make dinner for you. Try to schedule some time for the two of you: it might be as simple as going for a coffee together, bathing the baby together or going for a walk (with or without the baby).
Create opportunities for you and your baby to have time together. It might be sling wearing or just laying skin-to-skin with the baby on your chest. Make eye contact and talk to them. Use silly ‘musical’ voices. Developing this relationship as a dad is very important and helps the child to see you as a positive role model as well as building a strong attachment to you. They will grow learning that they can trust you, rely on you and that they are safe. Children who have a strong attachment with both parents will be more confident, sociable and emotionally balanced as they will always know where to get love and support. This attachment develops over time and it will take time to understand what your baby needs from you or what are they trying to communicate. It is a journey where you are all learning from each other.
- If you are going to sling wear, please visit this page on the Lullaby Trust website to understand how to do this safely.
- If you are having a cuddle or having skin-to-skin time, never fall asleep holding the baby and don’t lay on the settee with them. Babies should not sleep on a settee or chair, even when supervised.
Try to be alert to and recognize signs that the baby’s mum is struggling. Reassure her that she is doing a good job even if she doesn’t feel that way. Ask how you can be of help: what does she need from you? Plan together and identify what you can do to help. You can suggest that she speaks to her Midwife/Health Visitor or GP so that they are aware of how she is feeling and they can then signpost for further support as needed.
You may find she becomes irritated by and with you. It may feel that you can’t do anything right. Just try to listen, reassure her and seek further help if needed. Irritability, anxiety and feeling overwhelmed can all be normal but can also be some of the symptoms of Postnatal Depression, so you may need to seek support for her.
Identify ways you can both fill your ‘emotional bucket’. Being a parent can be draining in all sorts of different ways. Talk about what both your needs are. It might be to have a bath without being disturbed. It could be to read for a short period alone or have a friend visit. Needs are different from person to person, so validate each other’s feelings and acknowledge what you need from each other at any given time: both of you are equally important.
Finding help and support
If you are struggling, you can seek help and support. 75,000 dads experience Postnatal Depression every year, so you are not alone. Talk to your GP or other services, share how you are feeling and get some advice.
Some resources which may be helpful include..