So, you’ve had a baby! Yay, congratulations on bringing another life into the world!
The first few months are a whirlwind of teeny tiny tasks mostly surrounding the care of the infant you have brought home. Then there is the woman in your life that carried this baby, labored, and pushed this little being out and whose life now revolves around the needs of this baby (as they should be!).
Unfortunately, where does this leave dad? What exactly is your role in caring for your new baby since you can’t feed her, you may have trouble comforting her, you’re taking care of mom and you love changing diapers, but….
In our Childbirth Classes, we separate into two groups: one for moms and one for their partners; each group then talks together about their fears about birth and becoming a parent. When we started separating the groups, we found that dads were much more likely to talk about their true fears when with other expectant dads! And dads found that they were not alone in what they were worried about! One of the biggest fears that comes up is how they will support the mom both in labor AND once the baby comes. I think dads really worry that they don’t have a distinct role when it comes to caring for their baby and this worry can be exacerbated when mom is breastfeeding as it often feels like there is little dad can do.
We’ve all heard about the importance of honoring the ‘fourth trimester’ for infants, meaning that a 0-3 month old baby barely realizes they are outside of the womb and living on their own. They are completely dependent on their parents for everything. It can be hard for a dad whose baby is easily comforted by mom and mom’s body but who screams and frustrates when dad tries to hold or comfort her. We often talk in our Breastfeeding/Baby Care Workshop about how dads can support a new and nursing mother by taking care of her needs so that she can take care of baby’s needs. While this gives dads a role, it may not feel as fulfilling as they had imagined or would like.
I often encourage dads to find their niche with their baby; starting when baby is calm and alert, getting close to baby, touching and stroking baby, utilizing some Infant Massage techniques, singing to baby, and experimenting with movement to see what they can do to soothe their child. It may take some time as baby knows mom’s smell and movements from the in-uterine life, she has to learn about her father and that he has the ability to make her feel safe and comforted as well.
As a baby spends time with and bonds with their father, they will begin to feel an attachment to them that is different from their attachment to mom, but can be just as strong and significant.
With all of these struggles for dads during the early infancy period, you would think there would be a plethora of services and resources out there just for new dads. Think again… it is a true struggle for dads to find a group of other dads to talk about these issues with and find others that are experiencing the same types of issues. Some dads luck out and have a group of friends that are having babies at the same time but many others simply struggle alone feeling like there is no place to turn, no other people to talk with, and maybe even no one else experiencing similar feelings about this time period.
As more and more dads brought the lack of these resources to our attention at Chicago Family Picnic, we began to explore ways we can support dads in the postpartum period much like we support moms during this tough transition. Our New Dad’s Support Group, which meets the 3rd Sunday of each month, serves to do just this. We ask dads to come together to bring their struggles and their triumphs as fathers to each other, finding support among other men experiencing similar situations. If you would like to join our next group on August 20th or read more about this group, please click here!
Despite what some may think, new fathers often need almost as much support as new moms do during the first few months of parenthood. Where can you go to find this support?
Written by Rebecca Nguyen, M.Ed, CBE, LC
Co-Owner of Chicago Family Picnic