First impressions are important.
If you are about to become a first-time father, you may think that the time for creating a first impression on your partner has long past, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Your partner knows you as a boyfriend or husband, but soon, they’ll see you as the father of their child. What will be her first impression of you as a father?
With this post, I hope to start you off on right foot, by sharing information that will help you be a confident advocate for your partner and child during birth and early childhood.
Every few weeks, I host a conversation with expectant fathers during a class at a local community hospital. These conversations are an opportunity for the fathers to ask any questions that they have, and to hear advice that I’ve gathered from maternity nurses and experienced fathers. There is no formal agenda for the conversation, but over time, I’ve developed the following outline of information that I try to share. This is the information, that the fathers I’ve talked to, found the most useful.
The response from the fathers that have taken the class, and nurses that have seen the fathers in action, has been great. I hope this helps you too.
A. Advice from Nurses for New Dads
a. Talk through your birth plans with your partner in advance.
i. Reach a common understanding on what factors would lead to a change in the birth plans. A plan is not a contract. You’ll need to be prepared to change course if needed.
ii. It is difficult for men to see their partners in pain, but they don’t necessarily need to feel that they must fix it. Some degree of pain is natural and men should understand that pain doesn’t necessarily mean their partner is suffering.
iii. Mothers will be physically and emotionally vulnerable during birth, they may not be able to effectively advocate for themselves. Fathers need to be prepared to advocate for mother and child.
b. Be Informed and ask questions.
i. The mother and father have a right to understand what is happening and know what the available options are.
ii. Doctors and nurses have a duty to explain things in a way that patients can understand. Ask as many questions as you need to feel comfortable with what is happening.
iii. Nurses can tell you when treatment decisions are optional, recommended, or needed because of a risk to mother or child.
c. Determine, before the day of the birth, who is going to be allowed into the birthing suite and who can stay during the birth.
i. Awkward moments can be avoided by knowing who you want in the birthing suite before and during birth. Communicating your decisions to family and friends in advance will be helpful in ensuring your wishes are respected.
ii. The decision on who is in and who is out, is not set in stone. At any moment, you and your partner have the right to change your mind.
iii. Nurses can be your enforcer. The nurses are trained, willing, and able to control the entire birthing environment. You can let a nurse know that someone or everyone needs to leave and they’ll handle it in a friendly, but firm, way.
1. If you want to talk to a nurse in private about this, you can catch them in the hallway or wait for the cervical exam (everyone other than the father is typically asked to step out during this exam).
v. Many nurses recommend what is known as the ‘Golden Hour’. This is where only the mother and father are with the newborn for the first hour of life. It provides a good opportunity for bonding and privacy for the mother during post-birth procedures. This can also reduce a lot of stress for the mother and father.
1. Your nurse will enforce the Golden Hour if asked, so you can just concentrate on mother and baby.
B. Warnings for New Dads
a. Dads at risk for queasiness should avoid watching the afterbirth.
i. Most of the dads that faint, do so while witnessing the afterbirth. If you think you are at risk, then watch the birth of your child if you can, but then look away and focus on something else.
ii. There is usually a chair in the corner of the room. Know where it is and have a seat you need to gather yourself.
b. Feelings of attachment aren’t always instantaneous.
i. There are a mix of feelings that new fathers can feel, including: love, stress, intense responsibility, unpreparedness, pride, worry, numbness, shock, etc.
ii. There are many stories from fathers that see their baby and instantly fall in love. This does happen sometimes.
iii. Sometimes, the baby seems alien to the father when it’s first born, or all the other feelings overshadow the feeling of instant attachment. Deep feelings of attachment can come days or weeks later.
1. You are not strange or a bad person if you don’t have instant feelings of attachment.
2. If this is your experience, don’t worry about it. Be the best dad and partner that you can be and it’ll all come together soon.
iv. Mothers can also have a delayed feeling of attachment. This is also normal. Be supportive if this happens.
c. It will take time before sexual relations return to normal.
i. Most doctors will say that mothers will be able to resume sexual activity around 6 weeks after giving birth.
ii. What doctors don’t tell you is that most women won’t enjoy intercourse for quite a bit longer than that.
iii. Dads should understand this and be mentally prepared.
1. Dads, that I’ve talked to, generally agree that sexual relations won’t get back to normal for at least 6 months after birth (and sometimes longer).
2. Dads that don’t understand this will sometimes feel neglected, especially if women avoid cuddling or hugging for fear of where it may lead. Now that you know, don’t be that guy.
3. Don’t be surprised if you try to have intercourse but end up needing to stop because it is uncomfortable for the new mom.
4. Know that it will get better.
d. Mothers will experience some level of postpartum blues or depression.
i. This is natural and to be expected.
ii. Dads need to watch for the possibility that postpartum depression can get serious enough that a doctor should be consulted.
1. Signs that you should call a doctor include: mother not showering or taking care of herself, mother not wanting to care for the baby, and if you ever get the feeling that the baby may not be safe if left alone with the mother.
2. Mothers may not be able to realize that they need professional help. Fathers must understand that it is their responsibility to look for signs of postpartum depression and act when needed.
C. Tips from Experienced Dads
a. Ask a close friend or relative to help you.
i. If you need to feed the dog, run errands for an elderly relative, or even feed relatives in the waiting room, ask someone to handle all that while you are in the hospital.
ii. You want to be able to focus on the needs of your partner and baby, so arrange in advance for someone to cover other things.
b. Dads can soothe babies too.
i. Learn the swaddle. It is pure gold for soothing a newborn.
ii. Babies love skin to skin contact. If you are holding the baby at home or in the hospital, taking off your shirt can help the baby be comfortable.
iii. Newborn babies don’t have great vision, but they can see colors and movement. Babies love to watch sports because of the movement on the screen. You have a free pass to take the baby and watch sports all season long!
c. Walk away if you need to.
i. Sometimes babies can cry and nothing seems to be able to soothe them. This can become extremely frustrating, especially when parents are exhausted and stressed.
1. You are not a bad parent if your child is crying and you have trouble soothing them. It will happen sometimes.
2. If you ever get so frustrated that you feel like you are on the verge of squeezing or shaking the baby, just put the baby down and walk away.
a. A crying baby in its crib is a safe baby. It is alive and breathing, so if you need to take a break and relax, go and do it.
b. You can go to a quiet part of the house, take a shower, sit on the front porch. Do whatever it takes to reset your emotions.
d. Use your nurses as a teaching resource.
i. Nurses provide education as part of their jobs. They can be a great resource.
1. Breastfeeding can be difficult, nurses have many tips and tricks to handle the various issues that can arise.
2. Nurses also can answer the questions you may have about caring for your baby or your partner.