Many dads experience a big change in their relationships when a baby comes along. All your relationships will change a bit. Your relationship with your wife/girlfriend/partner/ex/family/friends now has another person involved, and many dads can feel sidelined or ignored when this happens. This is really common and, although it sometimes doesn’t feel very nice, it is for a reason and won’t last forever.
Your baby needs you, and not just for the baby’s care, but also for mum’s. You might also be needed to help all of you manage the relationships with friends which will also be changing now that a baby has arrived.
It is important to remember that mums and dads both need to take care of how they feel during this time, as you will all be tired and making big changes to your life. Some of these changes are not by choice and both mum and dad will find aspects of parenting really hard to adjust to, even though they are really happy to be parents.
If there are lots of arguments (whoever they are with), then this will be difficult for everyone – especially baby – so find someone to talk to. Start with your Health Visitor, but be prepared to accept outside help if it is offered. You may be surprised at how many people have felt exactly the same kind of frustrations that you have, and they will be able to share tips and ideas on how to overcome these.
Sex after a baby
It is really important to remember that, although you obviously had a sexual relationship with your partner at some point, and this may have been a really important part of your life together, things may now be different. Although nothing has changed with your body and desires, some mums don’t feel like having sex for quite a long time after having a baby. This is completely normal. Be patient, respect your partner’s wishes on this and don’t put pressure on anyone to be sexual when they don’t want to be. Many couples take a long time to become sexually active again after having a baby.
It is also really important to consider contraception after pregnancy. Many women can be fertile again very soon after childbirth, even if their periods have not returned to normal. Contraception should be considered carefully. Make sure you have discussed this with a health professional before starting to have sex again.
For information on contraceptive services available locally to you, check out the www.fpa.org.uk website.
Everyone says how amazing becoming a parent is, but they often forget to mention how much like hard work it can sometimes feel. This can get even the most positive person down.
The first couple of months of having a baby in the house can be stressful, and the changes to your own normal sleeping pattern can make things feel more difficult. Remember, though, that you are not alone – all new parents are in the same boat!
• Keep fit and healthy – being a parent takes lots of energy. Give yourself a head start by eating well and exercising regularly. This doesn’t have to mean hitting the gym – taking baby for a stroll in their pushchair can count towards this.
• Catch up on your sleep – master the art of the power nap, grabbing sleep wherever and whenever you can. If your baby is asleep, you and your partner can have a lie down, too – the housework can get done some other time.
• Use your support network – you do not have to do everything on your own: it will help both of you if you accept any offers of support in the first few weeks, even if it’s just making you a cup of tea. Get help with the cleaning, cooking, shopping and the rest of the jobs around the house, whilst you take on the much more important job of looking after your loved ones. No-one will think you are a bad parent just because you ask for or accept help from your family or friends.
• Be kind to yourself – parenting means facing new challenges and experiences: you will become more confident each day. Don’t be over-critical of what you can and can’t do, or compare yourself to other parents. No-one is perfect, and it’s ok if your house is messy. If your baby is loved, safe and healthy, then you are doing a great job.
• Keep talking - it is vital that you and mum keep talking to each other, because you will both be finding the new responsibilities of looking after a baby scary. Try to tell each other how you feel, so that you can support each other better.
To be able to provide a baby with the kind of love and care that they need, parents also need to be looked after. Mums, in particular, need a lot of support and reassurance in the weeks after the birth, especially from her partner, family and friends.
Remember that – just like it is for you – it’s all new and different for mum as well. She will be recovering from the birth, which can take a long time.
If she is breastfeeding, this is also very tiring. Your Midwife, Health Visitor and GP will all want to make sure that mum and baby are doing ok, as they both need lots of extra support during this time, and mums often feel that everyone is judging them while this happens.
There are lots of things that you can do to help. Your role is really important, as baby needs you and mum to be happy and well, so that they can grow up to be happy and well themselves. If anyone in the family is struggling – you, mum or baby – then it is essential that you access support from family or friends, and from your GP or Health Visitor, who see lots of parents who need a little help. It is very common to need some support around this time, and no-one will judge you or mum – or think that you can’t cope as parents – just because you asked for help.
Feeling sad, worried or depressed is common
It is important to remember that mum may feel pretty low. Whilst having a baby is really exciting, some women can’t help but feel down and anxious when they are pregnant or after the baby is born. Being emotional and tearful is normal for women after giving birth.
It’s ok to feel tearful or sad sometimes, but if mum is feeling like this most days, and these feelings don’t seem to be getting better or going away, help is available. Remember that it can be difficult to tell people if you’re feeling anxious or upset, so she might need your support to access help and explain to others how she is feeling.
Some things to ask yourself are:
• Does mum feel that she is having difficulty bonding with the baby?
• Is she feeling sad or depressed?
• Was she separated from baby at/after birth?
• Is she constantly feeling exhausted?
• Did she have a difficult birth?
• Does she say that she feels unsupported or afraid?
• Is mum acting or behaving in a way that is unusual or out-of-character for her, such as not sleeping, or being excitable, confused, or increasingly anxious?
Keep a look out for any of these things happening and get help as soon as you can if they last for more than a day or two. It’s important that one of you speaks to your Midwife, Health Visitor or GP as soon as possible.
The happiness and wellbeing of the whole family is really important for the healthy development of a baby. Dads have a crucial role to play in this, but it isn’t always easy.
All parents want the very best for their child, and this can mean that we put a lot of stress on ourselves. There’s also the stress of handling the lack of sleep, doing lots of things for the first time, and helping mum recover from the physical efforts of labour and birth.
You may be feeling like you get less attention than you did before, or that all the focus is on mum and baby. You may also feel as if you have to get on with all the things you did before, but now with less sleep and more to do around the house. This is really common. Lots of dads feel this way and it can be a difficult thing to adjust to, regardless of how much you wanted to be a dad before the baby arrived.
Don’t bottle your feelings up. Speak to your partner and your family and friends, and find out if there are any dads’ groups locally that you could meet up with.
Remember, too, that – just like mums – dads can also feel down, anxious, worried or depressed.
Things to ask yourself are:
• Are you feeling inadequate or unable to cope, or maybe panicky?
• Are you feeling very low or fed up? This might include a change in your eating habits (maybe a loss of appetite, or perhaps you are comfort eating?), being unable to concentrate, lying awake at night worrying, or a general loss of interest in or enjoyment of life.
• Are you exhausted?
• Are you feeling irritable and aggressive?
Once again, if you think that any of the points on this list apply to you, seek support as soon as possible. Try speaking with your Health Visitor, or get an appointment with your GP. It’s important for your whole family that you do this – your baby needs a dad who will read with her, play with her and interact with her, and a dad who is depressed is less likely to want to do this.
Remember – the close emotional relationship that babies, infants and children have with their carers will influence them for the whole of their lives. Staying positive and emotionally well will help you influence your child’s future for the better, and give them the best start. Parents that look after each other emotionally can prevent problems for their children in later years, so be the best role-models that you can!
For more information on how dads can be affected by and supported through post-natal depression, please visit: www.nct.org.uk/parenting/postnatal-depression-dads and www.reachingoutpmh.co.uk