By Laurie Esposito Harley
Society tends to focus on a woman’s role as she enters parenthood. Articles discuss the changes she experiences in both body and mind. Pregnancy and parenting books seem to talk directly to the soon-to-be mother, even featuring the rounded belly of a smiling woman on the cover. Men weren’t even allowed in the delivery room until the 1960s – and weren’t permitted to stay for the birth until the 70s or 80’s.
It’s no wonder that men feel left out of the whole experience and are often confused about how to feel and act as a first-time dad.
The responsibilities (and fun) of being a dad begin with pregnancy. As an expectant father, you should try to be as involved as possible throughout the whole nine months. Attend doctor’s visits with your partner to not only alleviate her fears and anxiety, but also to watch your baby grow. The OB/Gyn will monitor the baby, tracking her development. You will be able to hear your baby’s heartbeat and see her move around during the ultrasound.
The doctor will also discuss your partner’s well-being and the importance of new healthy habits, such as eating well, getting proper exercise, and avoiding cigarettes and alcohol. Join your partner for a walk around the block and abstain from your usual after-work beer to support her in this journey. Growing a baby is hard work. Be available to help your partner as she navigates extra weight, swollen feet, and morning sickness.
You can also begin preparing for your role as father by taking parenting classes. You’ll learn what life will be like once your baby arrives, including information about breastfeeding, safe bottle-feeding practices, bathing tips, and how to change a diaper.
Although you may not be able to hold your baby yet, you are already a father. Even before your child is born, he can hear you and recognize your voice. Talk to him. Sing to him. Tell him stories.
Your life may feel a little crazy after the baby is born, but this is where the fun of fatherhood truly begins. The most important thing you can do right now is to share in the sometimes staggering tasks of taking care of your baby.
Communication is key. Talk to your partner. Who is handling diaper duty? Who is feeding or bathing baby? What about the night shift? Ideally, you and your partner should split these responsibilities, so that neither of you feels overwhelmed or resentful.
Even if you are still working a full-time job and your partner is home with the baby, you must do your share of caretaking and housework. An article in The Sun reports that being a stay-at-home mom is the equivalent of 2.5 full-time jobs. Don’t expect to come home to a spotless home and a hot dinner on the table. Instead, offer to take the baby when you come home from work or prepare your partner’s favorite meal. Or even better, ask her what she would like you to do to help.
After the birth of your child, your partner may experience postpartum depression, a condition with symptoms similar to depression that occurs in as many as 1 out of 5 women, according to the CDC. If you notice that your partner is sad, apathetic, and distancing herself from the baby, let her doctor know.
A New Family
While the addition of a new family member may disrupt your normal schedule, it won’t take long for everybody – baby included – to adjust to the new routine. Spending time with your child will help you learn to anticipate his needs. You’ll know when it’s time for a bottle or when he’s getting sleepy or if he just needs to play.
For nine months, your infant has been hearing your voice as you lovingly talk to her. Now you get to see her reactions and truly get to know who she is, what she likes, and her unique personality. And before you know it, you’ll get to hear her voice as she lovingly calls you Dad.