Being prepared for the emotional changes that having a new baby brings is just as important as having the nursery ready, pram purchased and baby announcement sent to family.
Experiencing anxiety and depression is not uncommon during this time. Up to one in 10 Australian men experience anxiety or depression when they welcome a new baby or when their partner is pregnant .
You may be more at risk of experiencing perinatal mental illness if your partner is suffering but you may also experience it even when your partner is going OK.
So be prepared and know what preventative steps you can take and what to do if you do notice your emotional wellbeing is taking a hit.
The 7 emotional wellbeing essentials for all new dads
1. A support network
Sometimes you will need someone to talk to about the stresses and challenges associated with being a dad. It doesn’t have to be as formal as a mum’s group, it could just be a chat with a friend about the stresses and good times that come with being a dad.
Remember, people who care about you will want to help. If you need a hand tidying the house, pruning the garden or just want to take time out, have a handful of people who you can call on.
2. Realistic expectations for yourself as a dad
Ask yourself, what type of dad do I want to be? Do you want to emulate your father or another significant man in your childhood, or do you want to do things differently?
Before you welcome your baby into your home, take the time to write a list of everything you loved doing with your father or father figure, and the things that you would do differently. Writing it down can help you identify exactly what being a good father looks like to you.
3. A discussion on your parenting style with your partner
Becoming a dad is a proud moment and it is very easy to start thinking of all the sporting, education and life moments that will come.
However, before you become too focused on the future, speak with your partner about your parenting hopes and dreams and ensure you are on the same page with your parenting styles.
Having this conversation early will help both of you manage your expectations of parenthood, but also helps minimise possible tension in your relationship.
4. Confidence to be involved in the day-to-day role of being a dad
Babies want their dads in their life and they form strong attachments to them in the same way they do with their mum.
Active, engaged dads do things differently than mums, from changing nappies to their playing styles and that is exactly how babies like it. This all adds to your baby’s experiences and research shows that having these positive interactions helps babies develop into healthy children with good emotional wellbeing and strong resilience.
5. Patience and support for your partner
While becoming a new dad is a huge change for you, it might be an even bigger change for your partner. New mums can often feel anxious and doubt their skills as a parent. Don’t worry these are common feelings.
It is normal to feel like you need to fix these problems. But remember, sometimes all a new mum needs and wants is to sit with you and have you listen to her fears and doubts.
If your partner says that the above experiences are ongoing, intense or impacting them, then it is time to sit up and take notice and seek support by talking with a GP.
6. Time for yourself
When your baby is born, your first priority very quickly becomes ensuring they are sleeping and eating. However, taking care of your own health is important to ensure you can be the best dad possible.
Therefore make sure you take some time for yourself, whether that is going to the gym, taking a walk or meeting up with friends. Likewise, support your partner to allow them take the time out they need to recharge.
Most importantly, sleep—usually the best time to do this is when your baby is sound asleep.
7. Access to help if you’re having trouble
Firstly, don’t worry, if you are having trouble adjusting to parenthood—you are not alone. If you need some expert help, speak to your GP about your concerns and they can point you in the right direction. Whether that is speaking to a counsellor or getting more intensive therapy they’ll help you find the right pathway for you.
1. Paulson, J. F. & Bazemore, S. D. (2010). Prenatal and postpartum depression in fathers and its association with maternal depression: A meta-analysis. JAMA, 303(19), 1961-1969.