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Basic Training for New Dads: A “Cheat Sheet” for Expectant Dads

Posted on June 12th, 2014 by | 12 views

Many expectant fathers experience “daddy nesting” during pregnancy as a flurry of activities such as buying and assembling baby gear, worrying about finances and postpartum work/life balance, doing endless research on the safest possible car seat setup. While these activities are of course important in preparing the family nest for their impending bundle of joy, dads-to-be commonly feel a bit disconnected from their baby during this period because they aren’t physically carrying the baby. As a result, they tend to assume a traditional “protect and provide” role while leaving many of the brass tacks preparation for the care of their baby to mom. 

Most expectant couples aren’t aware that a volume of research has shown that their relationship satisfaction is likely to take a hit after their bundle of joy arrives:

By the same token, research shows that fathers who are highly involved with their partners and babies during pregnancy and birth also tend to also be very engaged with them in the postpartum. While many couples (and their babies) thrive during the peripartum period, I’ve put together a brief “cheat sheet” for new dads in order to help them to stay highly engaged with their partners and babies even during pregnancy. By following these steps, new dads not only stay connected, but they get a real sense of confidence about being capable fathers and partners. 

Set up the Birth Plan – It’s critically important to develop a concrete birth plan which fits with the couple’s vision for how they want the birth to go, and to review that plan with their birthing professional. Furthermore, it is essential to realize that the birth might not follow the plan exactly, so talking over plans B, C, and D beforehand spares needless stress in the case that the plan needs to be changed for some reason. Dads can download one of many templates (one example comes from the American Pregnancy Association - http://americanpregnancy.org/labornbirth/birthplan.htm)  and interview mom about a variety of elements of the plan such as:

  • Who do you want to be present?
  • Do you want pain medications, or not? Do you have a preference for certain pain medications?
  • Would you be willing to have an episiotomy? Or, are there certain measures you want to use to avoid one?
  • What are your preferences for your baby’s care? (when to feed, where to sleep)

Then, dad writes up a brief one-page document clarifying the couples’ plan in order to review it with their health care provider. 

Interviewing Postpartum Support Professionals – Moms usually do this, but dad can be directly involved with baby’s well-being even during pregnancy by taking point on the legwork involved in selecting an osteopath, naturopath, pediatrician, acupuncturist, and/or chiropractor. Key steps involve:

  • Dad interviews mom regarding any preference she has including factors such as geographical location, male vs. female, philosophy regarding treatment, ability to see the same provider for each visit, availability of same-day scheduling, etc.
  • Dad aggregates information from friends, providers covered by insurance, etc. and makes the initial round of calls to determine availability of providers and adherence to factors that mom and dad are looking for. If you reach a nurse or office staff, ask about strengths or weaknesses of the practice, if their own children are in the practice – if not, who do they use?
  • Dad goes back to mom with the information and mom and dad talk over next steps in terms of choosing a provider.  Weekly Summit Meeting – Research shows that a couples’ relationship satisfaction commonly declines in the first year postpartum. However, there are many ways to keep the relationship strong, but men commonly wait until there’s an issue rather than being proactive. One of the best ways to make sure that your relationship stays strong is to set up weekly “summit meetings” BEFORE THE BABY COMES in which you both take a minimum of 15 minutes to check in with each other about how you’re doing. Note that this is NOT a time to “nag” each other or to do “family business,” but rather the focus should be on simply communicating how you’re feeling. Actively working to express and to have your partner express what it’s like between your ears is a great way to make sure that you’re both on the same page. It’s a great way to clarify both areas of excitement as well as concerns, and takes practice. Hard-wire this time into your respective schedules and do not let it slide off-radar once the business of new parenting kicks in. Keep the parent-parent leg of the relationship triangle strong! 

Get Support - While the relationship with mom is a key aspect of a man’s transition to fatherhood, it is critically important that both parents are active about tapping into their broader networks of support to buffer and reduce the impact of the stress of birth and new parenting. Men are generally socialized to look to romantic relationships in order to get their emotional closeness and support needs met, but the fact is that by being proactive in connecting with other people (ideally other new/expectant fathers) prior to feeling stressed, they manage their own well-being and are more available to their partners and babies. Moms helping dad to feel entitled to recharging their batteries by meeting up with others is essential to the family, and by the same token dads needs to be proactive about urging moms to get their own social support needs met. In some cases, dads need some convincing along these lines, and in my practice I regularly work with men to make sure that they are being proactive about making sure they have a “balanced social support portfolio.” Another key consideration along these lines is that if either mom or dad has had a history of any mental health issues, the stress which can accompany the role change to new parenthood can in some cases reactivate them. For this reason, it’s essential to be proactive in making sure that you have access to a mental health professional with expertise in those issues, and who has experience working with parents as they navigate the transition to new parenthood. 

Taken together, these four steps go a long way toward giving dad concrete guidance about specifically how he can be actively involved with his partner and baby even during pregnancy.

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