Dads and father figures play a unique and important role in children’s development. As a new dad, it’s important you are involved in getting to know your baby and contributing as an equal partner in the parenting team from the start.
With all that is happening with a new baby, there are two important points for all dads to remember:
- Support and work with your partner as part of the parenting team; and
- Bond with your new baby.
The parenting team
Each parent brings something unique and important to parenting and to children’s development. The best parenting happens when parents work together as a team and support each other.
At this time, when your baby is very young, your partner will be totally focused on baby’s needs and will need lots of support. Remember:
- Try to understand the challenges that your partner is facing
- Do your share around the house (of course!)
- Give lots of encouragement and praise
- Spend lots of time getting to know baby (bathing, changing, feeding) and developing your confidence
- Offer your partner self-care time as you spend time with your baby
- Recognise you have an important role to play as a parent
- Take care of yourself as well as your partner.
Understanding what new mums are experiencing
- Expectations: It is easy to think that new mums already have all the skills to be a parent. But, just like you, they have to learn as they go along, and can feel lots of pressure to do things right. Mums often feel that others (other mums, parents, in-laws, and society) are watching and judging them, which is why your support and encouragement is so important.
- It is non–stop: Caring for a baby 24/7 is emotionally and physically draining. It is common for new mums to feel overwhelmed through lack of sleep, feeding 8 to 12 times a day, and lots of crying from baby. Help with night feeds and spend time with baby as much as you can.
- Physical changes: Along from hormonal changes, many new mums are conscious of changes to their body. This can affect their self-esteem. “Perfect” photos of new mums on social media don’t help!
- Baby blues: Many mums experience this following the birth and, although normal, this still needs your support.
- Post-natal depression (PND): Up to one in six new mums experience PND, and your role in reaching out for support is vital. Be aware of your own mental wellbeing too – fathers can also experience PND.
Bonding with baby
It may seem like your newborn baby is “not doing anything”. New dads often wonder what they should be doing with their baby.
Far from doing nothing, your baby is trying to form a relationship with you by staring at your face, seeking your response. Making eye contact with baby and communicating with your face and eyes is called ‘mutual gaze’. This forms the foundations for bonding and a lifelong relationship with your child.
- Mutual gaze: Your baby will look at you seeking to make a connection. It is important that you acknowledge this by looking back. This is called “serve and return” and also affects brain development.
- Talk to and sing with your baby. Use different voices and facial expressions.
- Skin to skin contact with baby is very important so they can learn your touch, feel and smell, and so you can learn theirs.
- Reading: it is never too soon to read to your baby!
- Remember, every opportunity you have to spend with your baby is a chance to build a bond. This includes changing nappies, bathing, helping with feeding and playing and hanging out with baby.
- You may notice that you and your partner do some things differently with baby. As long as baby feels safe and loved, these differences are good for baby’s brain development.
- Settling baby: Apart from being able to breastfeed, mums have no more natural ability to bond with or settle baby than you. It just takes patience and practice. Don’t automatically hand your crying baby to your partner!
Remember, you and your partner can form strong bonds with your baby, all it takes is time and effort.
Hearing from other dads
It is important that new dads find opportunities to talk with, and hear, from other dads. There are a number of workshops and playgroups for dads, which offer a great chance to talk about fatherhood and learn new things.
There are also some great online resources to find out what other dads are saying and thinking:
Support for dads and father figures
- DadsWA and Ngala – Parenting Line (08) 9368 9368 or 1800 111 546
- Raising Children Network – Fathers
- The Fathering Project
- Beyondblue – Dadvice
- Dads@lifeline (08) 9261 4444
- MensLine 1300 78 99 78
- Contact your Council for Neighbourhood Centres
- Playgroup WA for local playgroups, including playgroups with dads – 1800 171 882
- Meerilinga – Promoting Positive Childhoods
Courses for dads
- Ngala workshops
- Mensplace – Aims to support and enable men to address relationship and family issues, whether single, partnered, separated or re-partnered.
- Menstime – Anglicare’s program designed to assist, empower and educate men on a variety of issues, and develop their own self-reliance.
- The Blokes’ Book – A directory of services for men in WA