Dad holding baby

“Being a new dad can be a lot of work, but it’s also an honour, a privilege, and a humbling experience.”

Becoming a dad for the first time is a special experience in a man’s life. Adjusting to bringing home a baby can take some time, and your partner and baby will need all the attention they can get. 

Managing your mental health at this time means you are in a stronger position to support your partner and baby, and are less susceptible to unhealthy stress, anxiety and depression. Below are some practical tips for managing your mental health.

Join A Dads Group

Involved fathers experience some of the same challenges as mothers, such as isolation, loneliness, and being on a steep learning curve. Dads groups are a valuable source of support and community, as well as helping fathers develop new skills. 

Joining a dads group allows you to talk about the joys and challenges of being a dad and can feel like a brotherhood of guys who understand your situation. It gives you an important opportunity to socialize with other dads and allows you to participate in fun and interesting activities you may not try on your own. It allows you to recognize that many dads struggle with the same challenges you do and it normalizes your own experiences. 

Hearing from dads whose kids are older than yours or who went through similar challenges can be empowering. It shows you in a tangible way that things will change, which brings about renewed patience and appreciation for the present. Local Dads groups can be found on facebook, meetup.com, etc. If there are none in your area, perhaps you can start your own.

Take Some Time Off

Know how much time you are entitled to take off work and speak to your employer about their parental leave programs. The benefits of taking some time off include: bonding with your baby, allowing you to not have to worry about work on top of this new transition for you and your family, and giving you extra time to plan and manage your work life balance for your return.   

A newborn baby is a challenge – but when both parents share the responsibility, their partnership becomes even stronger. That stronger relationship with your partner will act as a buffer against psychological stress.

Studies from different countries have confirmed that fathers who take more paternity leave have higher satisfaction with parenting and increased engagement in caring for their children.[1]

Build a Support Network

It does take a village to raise a child. If you have parents or relatives who can come over to help you out with cooking, housework, or looking after your baby for a bit while you take a break – it will make all the difference. 

Many people can be added to your personal support network. Think about asking family members, friends, or neighbours to support you. Other members of your personal support network may include community groups, local dads groups, cultural or religious congregations, and other expectant families, such as people you met during prenatal classes.

Manage Sleep Deprivation

  • If your baby takes a nap, put everything aside and take a nap too. 
  • Go for a morning walk. The exposure to natural sunlight in the morning can help reset your circadian rhythm (internal body clock) after a sleepless night. It also helps an infant develop a regular sleep-wake cycle.  Plus, the exercise may make it easier to fall asleep when you do have a chance to nap.   
  • Ask a parent, sibling, or friend to alternate baby duties with you so that you can make up for missed sleep with short naps during the day. Even 15 minutes of shut-eye can be beneficial to your body and mind.
  • Monitor your caffeine intake. Sleepless nights may tempt you to drink more coffee or tea the next day – this can be self-defeating and ultimately leave you feeling more tired and anxious. 

If your level of exhaustion is so great that it is impairing your ability to make safe decisions or carry out daily functions, it’s important to talk with your doctor.

Express Gratitude

Being a new dad can be a lot of work, but it’s also an honour, a privilege, and a humbling experience – it’s important to remember that. Expressing gratitude can improve your mood, make you more optimistic, improve social bonds, and improve your physical health. 

Even small things might make you feel more frustrated during a normal day. When you feel yourself getting upset or frustrated, hit the pause button and reset your thinking. Come up with something positive about the situation or think about something else entirely that you are thankful for. 

References:

  1. The impact of taking parental leave on fathers’ participation in childcare and relationships with children: Lessons from Sweden. Community, Work & Family, 11(1), 85–104.

Author Bio:

Guest blog by David Fallon, Organizer for the Metro Vancouver Dads Meetup Group, a diverse community of fathers who take an active role in their children’s lives. They meet about twice per month, with their kids, at parks and playgrounds in various locations within Vancouver (currently organizing events outdoors and following social distancing guidelines). 

Written by the HeadsUpGuys Team - Combining lived experience, clinical practice, and research expertise. Reviewed and approved by Dr. John Ogrodniczuk - Professor and Director of the Psychotherapy Program at the Department of Psychiatry, The University of British Columbia.
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