What were we thinking! promote confidence and reduce distress in parents with a first baby

And just like that‚ you're a dad

By Alberto

And just like that‚ you're a dad

No one can prepare you for becoming a father. I fell completely in love with Victoria as soon as she was born but to say that I felt overwhelmed would be a major understatement. As I took this beautiful tiny new human-being to be weighed, I knew that my life had completely changed.

When I say that no one can prepare you for becoming a father, what I really mean that no one prepares you for becoming a father. It is true that I could never fully describe the absolute joy I felt the day that Victoria was born but I do think it would be helpful for fathers if there was a bit more help and guidance around what to expect. Mothers get the months of pregnancy, as a little baby grows, to prepare them for life as a mother but sometimes I think it is difficult for dads to feel the same sense of anticipation. 

The ante-natal classes we attended helped to prepare us for the birthing process (I would definitely suggest other couples try “calm birthing” classes) but it would be great to have a space for dads to visit to discuss what they are worried about, what they are excited about and what to expect once baby arrives.

For now, I’ll just take every day as it comes. 

Expert response from What Were We Thinking! expert, Sue Doogan

Alberto, never a truer word was spoken! You are so right when you say “nothing prepares you for becoming a father” and our society mostly focuses education towards pregnancy, birthing and mothering. Thankfully though we live in a time where researchers are finally catching up and a number of studies now are focusing on the importance of the father-infant relationship. The caring and nurturing that dads offer to their babies, the “rough & tumble” dad-play and the story telling (just to name a few activities), are all vital for the development of neural pathways in baby’s developing brains.

Babies come into the world ready to connect with both parents. Women don’t instinctively know “what to do” any more or less than men know “what to do”. Both parents need to learn their baby’s cues and temperament but fathers need to see themselves as more than just “helpers” in raising their children. Some of the early research shows that if fathers are engaged and involved in their child’s life, it can have a significant impact on their child’s social, emotional, cognitive and physical functioning from infancy right through adolescence and into adulthood.

When you have a baby it is prudent and inevitable to look at how you were parented. What do you want to replicate for this generation? What cycle of behaviour will stop with your generation?

While no one disputes the effect on women’s lives that the birth of a baby brings, it is also a significant change for new fathers. As Alberto says “it would be great for dads to discuss what they are worried about”. As we know, the majority of men find it difficult to confide in each other let alone with professionals as to how they are travelling both mentally and physically or even for suggestions on how to navigate certain paths. I’d like to think that men/fathers like Alberto and the many more men who read these blogs will continue pushing forward as the new voice of fathers.

Look at how far as a society we’ve come when, not that long ago, men weren’t even allowed in the delivery room for the birth of their child! Over recent years we now regularly see proud dads walking around with a baby “strapped” to their chest or pushing a pram with no mother in sight and working on ways to achieve a better work life balance.

We might be seemingly just dipping our toe in the water but before too long we should have just as much evidence based research and strategies geared towards the needs of men to enable them to feel more confident and competent in their parenting role. It’s a timely reminder that all professionals need to make sure that they become even better skilled at making sure both mothers and fathers are engaged in parenting this next generation and generations to come. As a starting point, imagine if the Maternal & Child Health Service had a name change to “Child & Family Health Service” – I’m certain it would be more welcoming for fathers coming through our doors!

Posted in:  Baby 0-4 weeks  A new reality  Your needs  Dads