TIPS FOR NEW DADS
by Paul Nagle-McNaughton
When my second son was born, we received at the hospital a packet of baby care information. The packet contained a variety of helpful tips and ideas about baby care, recovery information for moms, breast feeding suggestions, etc. As I looked through the materials I noticed that dads were not mentioned anywhere in the materials. I later asked the maternity unit director if they would include a sheet for new fathers if I helped developed one for them. The idea was enthusiastically received. I also made some suggested changes in their existing material to make them more inclusive of and inviting to dads.
What follows is the text from the Tips for New Dads sheet that is now included in their packet of materials given to new parents.
TIPS FOR NEW DADS
Dads Make A Difference
Playing an active and involved role in your childs life is critical to his or her emotional, physical, and cognitive development. Studies show that babies with involved dads feel more secure when they see that their needs can be met by either parent. Later in life, these children have more confidence and tend to do better in school. Boys especially have higher self-esteem when dad is seen as an equal parent.
Becoming a Dad
Many fathers report that the experience of becoming a father is the most emotionally intense experience they have ever felt. This emotional experience may happen immediately while holding your baby for the first time or it may develop over time. Take time to enjoy these feelings in their fullness.
Developing Fathering Skills
It is normal to not know what to do with, or how to comfort, your baby at first. Give yourself time to learn. Good fathering, like good mothering, takes time and practice. Most men have not had the experience or training that many women have had in the areas of child and infant care. Watch what others do, ask questions, ask for suggestions, and discover what works best for you.
Spending Time with Baby
The best advice for new dads is to get your hands on your baby as soon as, and as often as, possible. Through the process of directly caring for your infant you will learn what your baby needs, how he or she communicates, and what comforting techniques work best.
If possible, take paternity leave. Most new fathers have access to some form of leave, but only a small percentage actually take advantage of it. Your baby will only be a newborn for a month. Nearly anything can be put on hold for a couple of weeks.
Try to spend time alone with your baby. Create opportunities when you are the sole care giver. This will allow you to get to know each other. It will also help you learn the language your baby uses to communicate his or her basic needs. Giving your child expressed breast milk or formula provides you with the opportunity to feed and nurture your baby. The bond you are developing with your child through your interactions, touch, and care giving is the foundation upon which your father-child relationship will be built. The time you spend with your baby now, will make you a more effective parent in the future.
Supporting Your Partner
How your partner responds to the labor, delivery, and recovery process will be unique to her. What she needs most during this time is your love and support as she moves through this emotionally draining and physically demanding process. After the birth, be prepared to feel left out at times as your partner focuses most of her energy and attention on herself and your new baby. Understand that this will not be a permanent condition nor are her behaviors a rejection of you. Breast feeding, loss of sleep, increases in maternal hormones (over sexual hormones), and the physical and emotional recovery process will all impact your partner and her needs.
You can be of most help during this time by increasing your level of work at home. If you have other kids, take over the child care; if there is laundry to do, do it; if a diaper is dirty, change it; if there is cooking to be done, put on your chef hat; and anything else you can think of that will allow your partner to focus on herself and your baby. Remember, the better your partners needs are met, the better your babys needs will be met. Bringing a new baby into your lives can create family stresses, but the challenges and joys of a newborn can also bring you closer together.
Emotional Ups and Downs
Emotional highs and lows can be just as common for your partner after the delivery as they were during the pregnancy. The hormonal changes, sleep disruption, and the stresses of being a new mom will tax your partner's emotional and physical energy resulting in a wide range of emotional responses. This too shall pass.
Taking Care of Dad
New dads also need support and care. This is a very good time to call on friends and family for support, assistance, or simply a listening ear. Seek the support and guidance of other new or experienced dads. Some resources to help you meet the challenges of your role as a father are listed below.
Resources The Baby Book: Everything You Need to Know About Your Baby, by William & Martha Sears. Fathers & Babies: How Babies Grow and What They Need From You, by Jean Marzollo. The Father's Almanac, by S. Adams Sullivan.
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