It isn’t completely uncommon to hear an expecting father say ‘There’s not much for me to do until the baby is two or three anyway.’
It’s a disheartening assumption. Not only for his partner and unborn child, but for him as well. There is so much a father can do with his child before the age of two. And those strong parental relationships don’t have a starting line; they start whenever you are ready and not when society, or friends, or family tell you they do.
Some men can feel left out during the pregnancy and newborn phase, and this is a shame. We talk often about empowering women during this time, but we can also support men and help them to support their partners.
Pregnancy seems like a difficult stage for a man to become a hands-on father. But in reality, there is so much that can start that bonding process.
At around 18 weeks into the pregnancy your developing baby will be able to hear sounds. By 25 weeks they will start to respond to sounds and begin recognising your voice – spending time talking and singing to your baby will allow your baby to recognize you by voice when it’s born. This not only helps and nurtures the bond between you and your baby, but also helps to ease your baby into its new environment by having familiar sounds to help it feel safe.
Going along to as many appointments as you can will help you feel part of the journey. Your partner will appreciate your support and it is an important time in both of your lives to feel close and together. Being with your partner, perhaps holding her hand, as you see your baby moving inside the womb is such a special moment.
If you can, changing some of your other commitments for a short while, may allow you to go along to antenatal classes and groups. Feeling prepared and knowledgeable will help you be a calming and soothing integral part of the birth. Lots of classes teach you massage techniques for keeping your partner calm during her labour and the birth of your child. You can also memorise the different breathing techniques to help her stay focused when she needs it the most, and pick up other important tips to help in labour.
After the birth many people think that it’s just breastfeeding and nappy changes that are needed. You may not be able to actually breastfeed your baby, but you can swat up on all the methods and tips to help your partner and baby establish good breastfeeding techniques. You will often be the only support she has during 3am feedings and knowing how to help will be a brilliant relief.
If you are bottle-feeding your baby then you can take night feeds, day feeds, make up bottles, wash and sterilize them ready to go. However you decide to integrate yourself into the feeding, it will help you to realise that you are an essential part of your family.
Newborns also need a lot of snuggles! Getting skin-to-skin contact with dad is an amazing way to increase those oxytocin levels and bond with your child. Research has shown that babies who are held, as opposed to being placed in a cot or Moses Basket, cry less and soothe quicker. The warmth from your bare skin also helps to stabalise your baby’s temperature, reduce newborn stress and keep blood sugar levels in check.
Evidence also shows us that having regular skin to skin with your baby in the weeks that follow the birth helps dads and partners to feel more involved and nurturing towards their new family. Having regular skin to skin also helps reduce the feelings of depression and anxiety in new fathers, which in turn reduces your chance of having postnatal depression. Postnatal depression in men is not something that is spoken about as often as it is in women. However, it is something that can occur in the postnatal period.
Your partner will also need a lot of support in those weeks after childbirth, especially if she had surgery to aid birth. You can support her as much as you can from helping her to the bathroom, to cooking meals and making sure she’s comfortable. If she had a c-section she may not be able to lift the baby, and will need your help to maneuver into the right position for feeding.
Whatever you choose to do, it is important to know that being a father is an incredible thing. And you’ll do a great job.