Congratulations, you made a human being! Being a dad is one of the most amazing and rewarding things you can do in life, but it can also be pretty scary and daunting at times.
Having someone completely rely on you, trying to support your partner and trying to maintain a sense of normality amongst all the nappies, crying, vomiting and chaos can be a challenge.
But don’t worry! We asked some seasoned fathers to tell us their top tips for new dads and here’s what they had to say…
1. Teamwork is the key
It takes two to tango, and it takes two to make a baby! Now that your baby is here, it’s more important than ever that you and your partner work as a team. As a dad, you might feel like you’re taking a back seat in the first few years of your child’s life. Your partner might be breastfeeding and may be the main carer for your child during these years. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get involved: get up in the middle of the night, help with the bottles, help with the feeding, and do whatever you can to support your partner. Sometimes you might even have to put up with an irritable, sleep-deprived partner, but the best thing you can do for your child during this time is to look after their mother.
2. Build a relationship with your baby
While changing nappies, bathing and feeding might seem like relatively mundane tasks, they all go a long way to help build your relationship with your child. The connection and bond you establish with your child during infancy is so important for their future growth and development, so be there and get involved, no matter how mundane the task.
Also, make sure you know your rights when it comes to parental leave and flexible working arrangements. A lot of employers are able to adjust your working conditions so that you can be there for all of those important (and not so important) moments. Visit the Fair Work Ombudsman for more details.
3. Celebrate parenting milestones
There are some key moments in every child’s life that you’ll want celebrate: their first smile, their first steps, their first word. But it’s also important to revel in the more trivial parenting milestones: their first time in the car, the first time they wee or poo or vomit on you, your first night away from your baby. All of these moments make up the tapestry of your child’s life, and your journey as a parent, so don’t be afraid to celebrate them all.
4. Accept that you won’t understand it all and that you’re not in control
Babies are not electronic devices. There’s no manual to tell you what each cry means, no remote to turn your baby’s volume down, and no off switch. Every baby is different and just when you think you’ve got yours worked out, something is bound to change and throw a spanner in the works, so be prepared to be challenged. There will be times when your child cries and there’s nothing you can do about it. You’re not a failure. You’re just a normal dad trying to work it all out, and that’s ok.
5. Don’t trust everything you read (or hear!)
Everyone loves to give advice and no topic is more overpopulated with advice than parenthood. While some people might have been through the same experiences and have some useful tips to share, you shouldn’t take their word as gospel (every baby is different, remember!). If you’re looking for information or reassurance, a good place to start is your GP. Not only is your GP a professional medical practitioner, they’ve probably known you and your family for a long time and can offer practical, relevant advice, as well as the latest information and guidelines on a whole bunch of issues, such as safe sleeping and SIDS.
Other useful resources include:
6. Make sure your routines are sustainable
One of those pieces of advice you hear all the time is ‘if you can’t get your baby to sleep, take them for a drive around the block’. While this might be effective, it’s not necessarily practical. Do you really want to spend an hour driving your baby to sleep every night? Remember that the routines you setup early on are likely to be followed for several years, so make sure they’re sustainable.
7. Spend time with your partner and prioritise your relationship
The start of parenthood can be a risky time for relationships. Not only are you exhausted trying to look after and build a relationship your new baby, you’re also probably dealing with some huge changes in the dynamics of your relationship with your partner. Research shows that the biggest pressure points for new parents are sex, finances, housework, sleep and relationships with other family members and in-laws. That’s why it’s important to be aware of and address any issues as soon as they pop up, as they’ll only be magnified once the baby comes along. It’s also important to set aside time to focus on your relationship; just because you’ve become a parent doesn’t mean you stop being a partner.
8. Don’t forget to look after yourself
There’s a reason flight attendants tell you to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others in an emergency: you can be of no help to anyone else if you’re not conscious. The same goes for fatherhood. Of course you’re going to be stressed. Of course you’re going to be exhausted. Being a dad is a full time job, and the hours and work are demanding. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make time for yourself. Looking after your health and finding ways to relax is essential. Go for a walk, watch a movie, take a nap or catch up with some friends for a meal once in a while. If you’re healthy and happy, you’ll be in a much better place to support your partner and connect with your baby.
9. Be there for other dads
There’s a lot of support and information available for new mums, but unfortunately, not so much for new dads. Emerging evidence suggests that more and more new fathers are experiencing mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, which often goes undiagnosed or unrecognised. So look out for your mates and be aware of warning signs that might indicate they’re struggling, such as spending more time at work, excessive drinking, irritability, or arguments with family or friends.
10. Take lots of photos and videos
Fatherhood is not only challenging, it’s also a whole lot of fun! You’ll go on adventures, laugh and even reconnect with your inner child. So make sure you take lots of photos and videos to capture those special moments, especially in the first few years as your baby grows and changes so quickly.
Being a dad might be hard work at times, but those memories are priceless.
Taking time to know your partner well helps with a new child; take some time for each other before the baby is born by accessing a $200 voucher to use towards relationship education or counselling through the Federal Government’s Stronger Relationships initiative. Click here to find out more.