Congratulations and welcome to the ‘Dad’s Club’. Perhaps, you’ve been feeling pretty excited about being a father and plan to be very involved in your baby’s life. Here are some tips for those new dads who are unsure of what to expect.
It takes a team to raise a baby and the best way to support your baby’s development is to get involved. Start by speaking to other dads and relatives about the challenges and joys of fatherhood. Also have a word to your employer. Father’s are also entitled to paid leave and you may be eligible for parental leave pay or Dad and Partner pay.
Get involved at home. Often the household chores fall by the wayside when a new bundle of joy arrives at the home. This is a good time for you to step up and help with organising the groceries, cleaning and other tasks.
Get involved with raising the baby. Help out with the day-to-day tasks such as bathing or changing nappies; playing with the baby and settling.
Get involved with a support group. For many dads, a new baby can be a shock to the system and it is important that you talk about how you are coping with a supportive network. If you missed out on the psycho-education your partner received, you can contact one of the following groups to help you deal with this exciting and new stage of your life:
Your baby is ‘wired for connection’. Work on what the attachment literature calls ‘being with’ i.e. being able to be present and follow, not direct interaction with your baby. You can develop your attachment (and your baby’s brain) in the following ways: spend time directly making sense of all your baby’s body language (i.e. all his/her sounds and movements). Speak ‘baby language’ by matching your baby’s verbal and non-verbal responses to you. Indeed, interacting with your baby is a joyful and fulfilling experience and your baby will respond in kind.
You may notice that you and your partner handle your baby differently. Generally your baby will respond well to the differences, learning to feel safe and secure when you respond appropriately to his/her ‘cues’.
Crying is a way of communicating and most babies will cry ‘for no reason’ for up to 3 hours in 24, there is also a period of ‘purple crying’ from 6 weeks to about 3-4 months when a baby may cry much longer for no apparent reason. It is especially valuable for parents’ well-being to share the comforting of a crying baby.
That said, there maybe a reason why your baby is crying. Ask yourself these questions:
- Are they hungry?
- Are they lonely?
- Are they hot or cold?
- Are they tired?
- Do they need a nappy change?
Try addressing each one of these questions to help settle your baby. Remember that it is important to stay in control of your emotions, especially if your baby is unsettled for a prolonged period. You are living an intense ride: often the challenges and changes will seem overwhelming especially when you haven’t had much sleep.
If you are feeling yourself getting frustrated or angry, you must take some time out. Call on friends or family for help. When parents experience these emotions or become totally exhausted they may handle the baby more roughly than intended or shake the baby out of sheer frustration. This could cause result in severe brain injury or even death of your child.
You can teach babies about physical and emotional self-regulation. Try to maintain eye contact while holding your baby and watch for and verbalise signs of pleasure which describe the play (your baby can read your intention that this is a pleasurable activity). Also show your baby the outside world, the local shops, the neighbours, your extended family and friends.
Maintaining a healthy relationship with your partner is extremely important for both your’s and the baby’s well-being. Your partner may be dealing with her own issues and there will be times when you need to be there to assist. Start by asking your partner what you can do to help and ask your partner what they can do to help you.
Make sure you make time when you are both calm, to talk about your feelings, your fears or about practical arrangements. Focus on sharing the problems rather than immediate solutions; and discuss everything from values to the arrangements for each day.
Accept that you will both feel exhausted and overwhelmed at times and that this is hard on both of you. Understanding this helps with the essential mutual ‘goodwill’. So does practising being affectionate with each other.
- A healthy and happy father is a significant source of security for your partner and baby so ‘do not use up your own oxygen’
- Adjust the way you meet your own needs and incorporate exercise and respite, make sure these breaks are regular and scheduled
- Free up time by ‘splitting the second shift’ (i.e you both have your ‘day-job’ but the evenings, nights and weekends can have a rotating ‘duty’ parent.)
- Organise help from extended family and friends, accept offers of baby minding and meals so you and your partner can spend time alone. This time spent reconnecting makes it easier to negotiate and compromise when you inevitably (given adjustment stress and lack of sleep) argue
- Re-establishing a sexual relationship may be challenging as your partner may long to have ‘her body to herself’ but there are many professionals who are able to help (begin with your local doctor)
If your energy levels and tiredness become exhaustion check in on your mood. Fathers as well as mothers get post-natal depression, for example intense feelings of sadness, frustration, (even joy), fear and guilt, feeling overwhelmed at the change. Again there is available and affordable professional help to be found by approaching your local doctor.
SMS4dads sends brief texts with tips, info and links to your phone just when you and your baby need it. It’s really simple and its free. The text messages are short and sharp. They cover understanding and connecting with your baby with tips on what support might work best for your partner.