Just for Dads

Just for Dads

Congratulations, you are about to become a father! Becoming a father is not only one of the most rewarding events to occur in your life, but also one of the most stressful. Following are several ways to help with your transition.

Importance of attachment for dad

The attachment process - or bonding between a parent and child - is the basis of an emotional bond that will last forever. You will be an important addition to your child's life and early interaction between you and your newborn is important to the attachment process.

Most of the research on parent-child attachment has focused on moms, but there has been recent research on the benefits of a dad's relationship with his child. Just as skin-to-skin contact between mom and baby is encouraged for the attachment process, dads are also encouraged to practice skin-to-skin contact with their newborn. This is especially important if mom is unable to have skin-to-skin contact because of her condition.

Moms have long held the traditional role as caretaker, but today many fathers are now assuming many of the tasks of caring for their baby. Your involvement during your partner’s pregnancy; the labor process; and taking care of your newborn, such as changing diapers, holding and rocking the baby, and helping with feedings are very rewarding and improve the early bonding process. These tasks may not come naturally to you, but you can learn these skills. Knowledge is extremely important and dads who are equipped with information can be just as competent in caring for their newborn as moms, and they will feel more confident in their new role (Deave and Johnson, 2008).

Concerns for first time fathers

There are several concerns that new fathers may experience in their new role. You may feel unprepared to become a father. You may also have feelings of alienation or separation from your partner as she begins to focus on preparing for the new baby. You may also be nervous about your lack of experience with newborns, lack of an adequate role model in your life, or lack of the basic knowledge of the pregnancy and childbirth. There are many ways to learn about your partner's pregnancy and childbirth, as well as learning the basic tasks of taking care of your newborn.

Dads want to be more involved in the day-to-day caretaking of their child. Assuming responsibility for the care of your child can be the beginning of the strong bond between you and your child. Part of the learning process may include attending childbirth classes (online or live), classes on baby care basics, books or online information. It is also helpful to talk to other fathers and learn about their experiences. Many experienced fathers love to share their stories. Developing a reliable support system will help you cope as you transition into your new role. Start by reaching out to your friends, family or other men who have children.

A helpful guide: "A Father's Guide to Pregnancy," FAQ regarding pregnancy, from The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, AGOG 2013.

Supporting mom

Other opportunities to gain information about pregnancy and childbirth include attending some of your partner’s many appointments.

Prenatal visits

Attending your partner's prenatal visits will equip you with information that may be helpful in understanding the changes mom is experiencing and about your developing baby. You will learn about normal symptoms of pregnancy as well as any abnormal symptoms. Attending your partner's prenatal visits is also a way to support mom through her own transition as mom.

Ultrasound appointments

Your partner will have an ultrasound at about 18-20 weeks (4 months) of pregnancy. This is called an anatomy screen. This will determine the age of the baby and determine its normal development. They can also determine the baby's gender. You will want to attend this appointment if at all possible. Seeing the baby for the first time is very exciting and can also be the beginning of the attachment process.

Preparing for labor and delivery

Childbirth classes, either online or in the classroom, can help educate you on the stages of labor, how to assist mom during labor, about the normal labor process and any complications that the mom or newborn might experience. The more information you have will improve your confidence as a coach and partner. Fathers can help mom cope with the discomfort of labor and childbirth as well as encouraging her during the pushing stage. Attending the delivery is a very exciting and rewarding experience. Your presence is very important not only in supporting mom and providing reassurance, but is also part of the bonding process with your newborn. You can serve as the central source of information to the other family members and your friends during the delivery and the postpartum experience so being equipped with information can assist you in communicating to others. You are very important during this experience.

The post-partum period

Your support for mom will continue to be very important. You will act as liaison between mom and the health care team. The time in the hospital is extremely important to the bonding process between mom, dad and baby - the beginning of your family. Mom will be extremely tired after the delivery so it is important for you to help regulate visitors so she can rest. This is also a time when mom will need your help and support to establish breastfeeding.

Your hospital stay is a great time to learn and practice the basic caretaking skills of changing diapers as well as wrapping and holding your baby. Feel free to participate in your baby's first bath. Your nurse will be glad to assist you in learning these tasks. You won't be perfect (it takes practice!) so don’t be afraid to try. Learn how to safely perform these tasks and soon you will be a pro. It is important that your partner is supportive of your efforts. Discuss your desire to learn these caretaking skills with her ahead of time so she will be encouraging.

What moms can do

Include dad in the prenatal, labor and delivery, the post-partum experience. Encourage him to attend your appointments and your prenatal classes as much as possible to better prepare him. Help him feel involved and important to the process. Encourage him to talk about his concerns on his transition as father. Dads have different concerns than you do as new mom. New dads are concerned about how they are going to financially support their family, how they are going to be as a father, how they can support mom during this experience. They are also concerned how having a child may change their relationship with you and how a child may change his life.

Helpful hints for mom:

  • Try not to be critical; support and encourage his willingness to learn the basic caretaking tasks.
  • Be gentle, he may not be perfect. It takes time and practice to get better. As long as he is safe, that’s what is important.
  • Tell dad what you need from him; he doesn’t know what you are experiencing.
  • Let dad protect his family by being the go-between with you and the outside world.
  • Make sure to give dad lots of alone time with the baby; this will improve his confidence.
  • Your support and encouragement can only enhance your relationship and that of the family, improving the father-child bond. You are crucial to its success.

Breastfeeding

Some dads feel unimportant or left out during breastfeeding sessions but you still play a role for successful breastfeeding. You as the father can support mom by encouraging her. The more you learn about breastfeeding the more you can partner with mom, improving on her success. Your support will be invaluable.

As father you can:

  • Reinforce the importance of breastfeeding.
  • You can also help with the process by bringing the baby to mom
  • Burp and change the baby's diapers
  • There will also be plenty of opportunity to rock and cuddle your baby after breastfeeding
  • Once mom is pumping you can feed your baby during some of the late night feedings allowing mom to sleep through an occasional feeding.

Post-partum depression

It is also important for you to familiarize yourself with the symptoms of post-partum depression. Post-partum depression can occur for several weeks after delivery. Sometimes sadness is part of the hormonal changes mom goes through after delivery but if those feelings become severe it may be time to alert her obstetrician. Be aware of the symptoms.

Those symptoms include:

  • The baby blues do not subside after a week or they increase.
  • Mom's feelings of sadness, hopeless, doubt, guilt seem to increase.
  • Mom is unable to care for the baby or herself.
  • Her appetite changes.
  • She expresses fears of hurting herself or the baby.
  • She shows no sign of happiness.
  • She exhibits panic attacks or extreme anxiety.

Again don’t hesitate to call your partner's health care provider if mom exhibits any of these symptoms (ACOG, 2013).