Congratulations – You’re about to become a Daddy!
It’s a time like no other – you’re filled with excitement, anticipation and maybe a healthy bit of fear too! But how many times have you suppressed an eye-roll when listening - for the gazillionth time - as a well-meaning stranger offers unsolicited advice that your life is about to change forever? It’s amazing how judgmental and overbearing people can seem when it comes to parenting.
The last thing you need right now are patronising clichés like: ‘You think you’re tired now?You just wait until…’ and ‘You’ll understand what it is to feel X, Y, and Z when you’re a parent!’ Yawn. It’s almost as if these people believe that you’re not a real person until you’re a parent, or that you know nothing about, well, anything!
Often these nuggets of advice aren’t even directed at you. They’re directed at your partner. Strangers look through you and ask her how she’s feeling about the impending birth, the lack of sleep, the overwhelming responsibility. Medical staff discuss birth plans with her, not you. Decisions about how and where (and sometimes when) are made with little input from you. Yes, it’s her body; yes, she is the one carrying the baby; yes, she is the one giving birth, but you are also important and a crucial contributor to all of these stages.
You support her during pregnancy, cooking her favourite food, taking her to her favourite restaurants, giving her foot rubs, booking spa days. You come to the medical appointments and marvel at the tiny beating heart on the scan screen. You proudly show the scan picture to your family, your friends, your work colleagues. You are just as excited as she is, just as proud, just as apprehensive. But somehow you are overlooked.
Know this: You are just as important. Your role may be different, but it’s vital. You’ll know this when you are getting your partner whatever she asks for during labour, when you support her through feeding, and when you are changing 10 nappies a day. Most of all, you’ll know this when you and your partner look at each other in the midst of a colicky crying session, silently wondering ‘why have we done this?’
So, what useful advice can be offered to dads-to-be? Here are some pointers that experienced dads have said they wish somebody, anybody, had told them:
1. Understand that YOU are important.
You might feel redundant as it’s not you who is physically going through it, but there are so many ways you can get involved. The baby needs to be close with both of you. Have skin-to-skin with the baby in the first hour after birth, help with feeding, with changing.
2. Realise that it will take its emotional toll. You might feel a bit useless as you watch your partner in pain, but know that being there and offering support is all she needs.When she’s in labour though, do WHATEVER she says!
3. Hormones are a thing!
Your partner will be on an emotional roller-coaster during the first few weeks. This is normal. Your usually calm and level-headed wife might turn into somebody you barely recognise, not even wanting you anywhere near her at times, and at other times just wanting a big hug as she dissolves into sobs about, well, nothing! Be patient. She can’t control this, and you don’t have to fix anything. Just be there.
4. Show her some Love
Your partner might feel insecure about changes to her body. You don’t need me to tell you that all she needs to hear from you is that she is just as beautiful as ever. Not only that, she is courageous and resilient and the way she loves and takes care of your baby makes you love her more than ever. On your way home from work call into the shop and buy her fave chocolate or a bottle of wine. She doesn't need to be showered with flowers....well, maybe once in a while - It's the little things that count.
5. Make time for each other.
Sure, the first few weeks pass in a bit of a blur and there is barely time to dress yourselves let alone get any quality time as a couple. But once you’ve adjusted and are comfortable leaving the baby with a trusted relative or friend, make sure you have time together on your own. That could be just a walk in the fresh air; it could be a coffee; it could even be a date night at your favourite restaurant. Whatever it is, make sure you regularly build in time for just you and her. A baby can put pressure on even the most solid of relationships. You want to model a good relationship for your children by remembering why you were together in the first place. Don’t lose your identity as a couple. If you don't have anyone to look after baby you can still arrange a lovely trip to the park or make her favourite meal with a bottle of wine.
6. Don’t lose your own identity.
You’re still you; so much more than just your labels of dad and husband. Your partner fell in love with your personality, your passions, your sense of humour, your hobbies, your interests. It’s so important to retain that sense of self. Encourage her to do the same. Give her time to be herself too.
7. Parenting can be boring.
Babies don’t give you much back in the first few weeks. This doesn’t last long but, when you’re in it, it feels like it’s never going to end. Just do what’s needed for each phase. Don’t rush ahead to exciting days out at the zoo, visits to the park and soft play centres with a newborn. There’ll be plenty of time for that, trust me!
8. The goal posts don’t stop moving.
No sooner do you have one thing cracked, then your baby will throw you a grenade that blows apart your sense of achievement. So, you’ve managed to get the bedtime routine down to a formula that works: Baby goes down no problem, and they stay asleep for some hours in a row. Triumph! Oh, hello sleep regression! Yeah, everything is a phase, even the good things. The Wonder Weeks app is a great way to track developmental leaps with young babies. It might give you an idea about why your previously good sleeper is suddenly waking up every 45 minutes.
A note on PND
The baby blues is a normal, temporary low mood occurring in the first 10 days or so. This usually passes quickly. If your partner experiences feelings of sadness beyond this, it could be a sign of Post Natal Depression (PND). Men can also experience post-natal depression so keep an eye on yourself and speak to someone if you're feeling down.
Signs to look out for:
1. Is she frequently crying for no apparent reason?
2. Is she struggling to bond with the baby and show interest in him beyond attending to basic needs?
3. Is she withdrawn from others, constantly being negative about herself or her abilities as a parent?
4. Does she constantly worry that something is wrong with the baby and has she lost her sense of humour and interest in things she previously enjoyed?
5. Is she neglecting herself?
6. Does she find it hard to keep track of time?
If your partner displays any of the above behaviours, please encourage her to speak to the GP. You can find other information about PND in my last blog post.