Be with your partner during the birth. For at least 30 years, around 90% of dads in the UK are at their babies’ births, and your presence matters. Although the focus will quite rightly be on mum, It’s been shown that having a supportive birth partner (usually dad) can lead to a better birthing experience and can even make labour progress more quickly.
Cuddle your baby skin-to-skin. Get skin-to-skin contact with your newborn as soon as you can after birth. It helps newborns adjust to life outside the womb and also triggers oxytocin release, a hormone which promotes the bonding process. In the days and weeks to follow, take every chance to snuggle with your baby who will learn about you through smell, touch and listening to your heartbeat. It will help you feel close and even reduce your stress levels.
Talk with your partner about what’s going on. Lack of sleep, changes to your routine and the unrelenting demands of a newborn are likely to test you to your limits. It may put a strain on your wellbeing and create tension between you and your partner: this is perfectly normal. It isn’t always easy, but it is important to find the time to talk about how you’re both feeling.
Make healthy choices. By exercising, cutting down on alcohol and eating healthy food, you will be looking after yourself and your family. It is also important to make time for the things you enjoy, even if it’s just a walk in the great outdoors.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. We all need a bit of support sometimes or just someone to listen to us, but you may worry about burdening others or about what they may think. Don’t be afraid to reach out to family, trusted friends, people you work with and community support groups. Health professionals particularly health visitors want the best for your partner, baby and you. don’t be afraid to speak up - they will listen to you!
Connect with other new dads. Although it is important to maintain existing friendships, it is also helpful to make new ones. Swapping stories of successes and disasters with other new dads can help you feel you're not alone. Services aimed at families are getting much better at welcoming dads and our directory has lots of organisations and groups across Scotland to help you get started.
Be open and honest about your mental health. Anxiety & depression are not unusual in men going through such a big life transition. The number of men who become depressed in the first year after becoming a dad is double that of the general population. New research suggested that the drop in testosterone around the time of birth may contribute to paternal postnatal depression (PND). Being ‘left in the dark’ while emergency interventions take place during labour can also be extremely traumatic for dads and in some cases lead to PTSD. If you cannot sleep or relax; if you feel down or anxious; if your relationships are strained; if you feel that you cannot enjoy anything it is important to get the help you need for you and your family.
Hang out with your new baby. Find an activity that can be just yours like reading, bathtime or baby massage. Babies love to be massaged, and learning simple techniques of positive touch has been shown to enhance deep bonding between dads and their children, starting after the babies' 6/8 week health check.
Breastfeeding - get involved. It’s easy to think of breastfeeding as mums responsibility, but in fact, you have a really important role to play. Research shows that by actively participating in the initial decision to breastfeed, maintaining a positive attitude and developing good knowledge and understanding about breastfeeding’s benefits, you can really help your child’s mum stick with it. Just in case you’re not sure why that’s a good thing – breastfed babies are healthier, less likely to become obese, and may even do better at school. Breastfeeding is also good for mum’s health and offers great bonding time with the baby. Some people say breastfeeding shuts the dad out, because you can’t do the feeding – but once it’s properly established mum can use a breast pump to express her milk, giving you the opportunity to take charge sometimes. And remember, once the baby’s ready for solid food (at around 6 months) you can pitch in even more.
Give it time. The first few weeks can be difficult for dads who can give a lot to their baby without getting much in return. But dads can, and do, develop the most powerful bonds with their children. Developing a bond with your baby takes time and happens through communicating, caring and playing. As your baby smiles, laughs and babbles along with you, a true relationship starts to develop. It can take on average six months to reach this point but it will happen.