Sometimes when a new baby is on the way, it can feel like almost every bit of information out there is aimed at mums – though there’s usually a good reason for that. Mothers tend to have the most immediate role, with pregnancy and those early months of breastfeeding being a time of enormous change and hard work. But that doesn’t mean dads and partners aren’t hugely important as well, with their own tasks and parts to play that they may need help navigating through as well. Welcoming your little one can be a joyous occasion, but it can be one that is difficult to figure out. So let’s get started on some of the things you can do!
Support seems an obvious thing to say, but it’s anything but. Something a lot of people often overlook is making sure Dad has his own support as well. Both parents are ideally placed to help and encourage one another, but it requires communication in order for it to be done in the most effective way possible. What does mum need? What do you need? And just as importantly, what do you both need as a partnership? Talking these things out – and from as early on as possible – is vital, and it’s a good habit to get into. Additionally, calling in your other usual support people – this could be friends or family – makes sure you don’t end up feeling burnt out. All of that being said, there are a few tips that can help make things a little easier. There are things you can do to support a pregnant partner, especially through things like nausea/morning sickness or food aversions. Find out what they can eat or what is an absolute no-go. Help with cooking and cleaning. Try to make time for you both to just be you, without the pressure of becoming parents.
Related to this is mental health. Did you know that dads can also be affected by postnatal depression (PND)? Up to one in ten dads can be affected by this1, and the rates are similar for postnatal anxiety (PNA). If mum is suffering from these conditions, there was a difficult pregnancy and/or birth, or if there are other stressors such as financial or relationship worries, these can all be risk factors for developing PND/PNA yourself. If you do find yourself feeling low or “off”, it’s essential to recognise that these conditions can affect you as well, not just mum. Reach out for help as soon as you can. There are a variety of resources available depending on where you are in the world. You can start with friends and whānau, your GP, or call, text, or otherwise get in contact with any other reputable mental health support service you have access to. You’re not alone, and it’s ok to ask for help.
Playing with a newborn can seem unfathomably difficult. They’re small, fragile, and can’t interact with you. But forming bonds is just as important for dads as it is for mums and takes just as much work. Playing with your baby is an excellent way to do this. At first, ‘playing’ may look a little different than what you’re used to or expecting. Instead, having cuddle time, watching your baby’s face, and talking or singing to them is all you need. It also has the added advantage of letting mum get a break and allowing the two of you – parent and child – to have special time for yourselves, too. Making exaggerated facial expressions can be entertaining for bubs, and it helps them to learn your face. For those first few weeks especially, they may not be up to playing for long, even at this level; newborns sleep a lot (even if they’re also waking frequently). But that doesn’t mean you can’t start! As they get older, they’ll start to show all the things they’ve been learning from you. They’ll mimic your expressions, and they’ll start to try and make the same sounds that you do. When you’re talking to them, it doesn’t need to be anything profound. Read a book, or a news article, or just narrate what you’re doing and explain your day. What you say isn’t as important as much as the act of speaking and interacting with your baby.
If mum is breastfeeding, it might feel like there’s not much you can do to help. That’s not true at all, though! One of the first things you can do is ensure your partner has enough food and drink to keep her going. Breastfeeding is hungry work. After all, your partner’s body is working hard to make food absolutely filled with nutrients for a growing baby, and that requires lots of energy. But that’s not all you can do. Maybe you can take it in turns to get baby up and changed during night feeds. If your partner is intending to express milk for the occasional bottle feed, you can absolutely help with that, as well. Some dads, grandparents, and other family members find it a fantastic bonding experience to be able to feed the baby. As a tiny aside, the Gen. 3 Pump is a handy thing to have on hand if this is a path you might choose to go down. Mum can express into the pump, then all you need to do is switch the flange for a bottle teat – easy as, and no need to worry about spilling it as you transfer the milk from pump to bottle! Another amazing thing you can do if you already have other children is taking care of the older ones when possible so mum and your new baby can establish a good breastfeeding routine. The things you can do don’t have to be big, but they all add up to being a massive help.
In New Zealand, you are entitled to take leave as a father or partner. Depending on the specific circumstances, this could be paid or unpaid. At a minimum, current New Zealand legislation provides for one week’s unpaid leave if you have been at your workplace for at least six months – this is called Partner’s Leave2. This increases to two weeks’ unpaid leave if you’ve been there for at least 12 months. Paid Parental Leave (PPL) is available to the primary caregiver. If you, as a dad or partner, will be the primary caregiver, you may be able to arrange for you to take the PPL entitlement. You are also able to transfer part of PPL from one partner to another. For more information, check with your workplace, and have a look at Employment New Zealand for more detailed information regarding leave, including some handy checklists around eligibility.
This is only the briefest look at some tips for dads. For those fathers and partners out there, what things do you wish you knew? What would you like to pass on to those experiencing parenthood for the first time?
1Dads’ mental health. (n.d.). Plunket New Zealand. https://www.plunket.org.nz/being-a-parent/being-a-dad/your-mental-health/
2Types of parental leave. (n.d.). Employment New Zealand. https://www.employment.govt.nz/leave-and-holidays/parental-leave/types-of-parental-leave/