For expectant dads this is a time of great excitement and change. You are an important part of the parenting team – dads can make an equal contribution to parenting babies and young children. All dads – including separated dads, stay at home dads, stepdads and solo dads – should avoid thinking of themselves as helpers or babysitters. 

Fathers make their own unique contribution to child development that is separate (but not superior) to mum. Most of what dads and mums do overlaps, but each brings something different to the parenting table that is of huge benefit to your child. 

The role of dads has changed a lot and most fathers are now seeking to be more involved in the lives of their children. This increased engagement brings lots of benefits.  

We know that children with a loving and involved father figure in their lives:

  • do better at school; 
  • have better relationships with others; 
  • have fewer behaviour issues;
  • are more confident;
  • enjoy good mental health and wellbeing; and  
  • are more resilient and able to cope with life challenges. 

 Your contribution matters to your baby, so do your best to get involved and engaged right from the start. 

The birth 

By now you have probably received more advice and information about the birth than you know what to do with. The most important things to most expectant fathers is that their partner and baby are okay. You will have been told your job is to support your partner, which is fair enough, but what does this mean? 

Most dads today are present at the birth of their child and mums find it comforting to be able to touch and hear their partner during the birth, but one of the most reassuring things for birthing mums is being able to make eye contact with you when they need it. So it is important that dad keeps a calm expression and tone of voice during the birth.  

A few other tips: 

  • Take care of yourself too. Maintain your food and water intake as the birthing process is emotional with lots of adrenalin, and your partner needs you alert and in tune during the birth. 
  • Talking is great, but keep it simple and encouraging (“You’re doing great”, “I love you” etc.). No need to come up with clever and different comments every time. 
  • If you start to feel overwhelmed, quickly duck out of the room at an appropriate time (between contractions) to gather yourself with deep breaths and self-encouragement. It is better to do this and recover than struggle through. 
  • Do you want to actually see baby being born? Most expectant dads say they don’t want to be “down that end”, but remember things can change quickly during the birth and it can be a wonderful experience to see your baby come into the world. Discuss with your partner before the big day. 

Remember that although your partner will experience pain during the birth, your support and presence will be a great help. Most women say that the memory of this discomfort fades very quickly after baby arrives. 

Bonding with baby 

Babies are born with an inbuilt impulse to communicate and right from the start your baby will be seeking to form a relationship with you. Early bonding forms the foundation for a life-long relationship with your child.  

After a birth, babies are often very alert. If your partner needs some time to recover, this is an ideal time to spend some time and start to bond with your baby.  

Some hints:

  • Skin to skin contact with baby helps them to learn your touch, feel and smell – and you to learn theirs. 
  • Baby will likely recognise your voice (they can hear in the womb), so talking to your baby will be comforting for them at this time.  
  • Mutual gaze. Almost immediately, your baby will look at you seeking to make a connection. It is important that you acknowledge this by gazing back, looking deeply into your baby’s eyes and communicating. You may notice baby copying mouth movements as an early stage of learning speech.  
  • You may do some things differently to your partner, such as how you talk to and handle baby. As long as baby feels safe and loved, these differences are good for baby’s brain development. 

By taking this time to build connection parents can form strong bonds with their baby, setting the base for developing great relationships and communication. 

Take leave 

Taking extra leave is challenging for dads, especially if they are the sole income earner at this time. However, we know that those dads who take a minimum of two weeks leave after the birth have the opportunity to form stronger bonds with baby, and become more confident and competent parents faster than those who take less. Try to take advantage of the any parental leave entitlements – talk to your employer or HR officer. 

Things will change 

Life will be very different after you bring baby home. New dads often tell DadsWA workers at Ngala they wish someone had told them how much life is likely to change.  

 Here are some things that are likely to be different as you adjust in the early weeks and months:

  • You may need to adjust your priorities. Those projects you had on the back burner will stay there for a while longer. 
  • You will have less time for individual interests. Those things you both did to unwind or keep fit like the gym or a regular game of golf are likely to become less regular while you adjust to the new rhythm of life. 
  • Financial changes may also add some pressure as many new parents will have changed from two incomes to one at same time as having some extra costs. 
  • Most parent are aware they will have less sleep but are often not prepared for this. Although new babies can sleep up to 18 hours per day, this is in short shifts of 2 to 3 hours for feeding. 
  • There will be less time for you to spend as a couple and organising time together may be challenging. Dads can play an important role in helping to avoid conflict in the relationship that might arise from all the changes by helping to find those small opportunities for a quiet chat, reassuring hug or quick shoulder massage. Support your partner if they want to focus on feeding and attending to the baby’s needs.  

Want to know more? 

The Raising Children Network – Fathers (a collection of articles and videos for dads) 

An interview with Dr Richard Fletcher 

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