Becoming a dad for the first time can be one of the most rewarding experiences in a man’s life – but it can also create a host of new challenges that raise a guy’s stress level.
It’s not unusual for men to get down on themselves or into a darker place as well, as studies show just over 10% of fathers experience postnatal depression within three to six months after a child is born, 
It’s important to pay attention to your own mental health during this time, so that you are in a stronger position to support your partner and baby, and are less susceptible to unhealthy stress, anxiety and depression.
Here are some practical tips for managing your mental health as a new dad:
- Make sure to talk with your partner and get on the same page when it comes to caring for your baby. Eg. what to do when your baby cries, how you are going to sleep-train, bottle feeding, and what you need and don’t need to buy.
- Having these conversations early and often can reduce a lot of stress, and helps you reassure each other that you are both keeping things consistent for your baby.
- When you become a dad, a lot is going to change and you will run into new challenges on a daily basis. This is okay. No one is completely prepared for their first child and it’s normal to feel overwhelmed or confused at times.
- You aren’t expected to know everything right away, but when you run into issues make sure to ask questions and reach out to other family members, or your doctor for advice.
- Remember, that this is a period of growth, not only for your child, but for you as well.
- Much of your schedule is now going to revolve around your baby’s needs, so you need to be flexible with it.
- You may have less time to engage in personal hobbies right now, but you will be able to pursue more of them again when your child is more independent.
- Work with your partner to create a plan to take care of your child and divide up tasks so neither of you feel too overwhelmed.
- Both you – and your partner – may want to set aside some time for yourselves to help decompress and relax. Make sure to schedule this into your week, otherwise it’s easy to push aside.
- If you are able, taking time off work to bond with your new child can be very rewarding. It also relieves pressure and reduces isolation for your partner, as you can be home to help more often.
These days, it’s not uncommon for dads to take on more responsibility in household and caregiving duties, or to be a stay-at-home dad (whether due to unemployment, personal choice, or the cost of child-care).
Unfortunately, being a stay-at-home dad can come with judgement from others, and ourselves. Stay-at-home dads are sometimes wrongly portrayed as less fit for caregiving, clueless, or lacking masculinity – but this couldn’t be further from the truth.
In reality, fathers play a critical role in their child’s development, and active parenting can not only increase your baby’s long-term health, but can also improve your relationship with your partner  and support your mental health .
If your life as a new dad isn’t what you expected, that’s okay. It is important to recognize that other people’s expectations about the ‘traditional role of a father’ only reflect their close mindedness and misconceptions – there is no reason to feel any shame or anxiety if your contribution to your family doesn’t fall into antiquated ideas of men being the sole breadwinners in their families.
Whatever fatherhood looks like for you, being comfortable with your role as a dad and taking care of your mental health will help you be a source of strength and support in your new family.
- Playing and spending time with your child is crucial for their development and can make a big impact on how they interact with and treat others as they grow up. It also can help strengthen your bond with your baby and support your mental health .
- For example, lay down on the floor with your baby at least once a day, to connect with them and see the world from their point of view.
- If you want to get more involved but don’t know where to start, let your partner know, so you can brainstorm more things you can help with or ways to interact with your baby.
- Just because you have a baby doesn’t mean the romantic side of your relationship is over. Make sure to continue connecting with your partner and go out when you can.
- Going out for walks in nature with your partner and/or your baby can be a great way to get some physical activity and fresh air.
- Set aside time to be together one-on-one and keep doing the activities you enjoyed before becoming parents, as mush as it’s realistically possible.
- Prioritize regular check-ins with your partner. Having a new baby can be a lot to manage, and your attention will naturally be drawn to caring for the baby. But working together and ensuring that you both feel supported makes it easier to cope with these new challenges, and enhances your connection as a couple.
- Getting enough sleep is going to be a challenge.
- Try to keep on top of things by following as many of our regular sleep tips as possible.
- Split up overnight duties with your partner.
- Sneak in a quick power nap when you can during the afternoon.
- To the extent that it’s possible, reach out to friends and family to help with daily chores and tasks or to watch over your child as you take a well-earned break.
- Friends and family members are often more than willing (and even eager) to help, if you ask.
- Some family members may not want to overstep or intrude, so asking for their support directly gives them permission to help out.
- Parents, grandparents, and other family members often will have a lot of suggestions on how best to take care of your child. Some of it will be helpful, but some may come across as criticism rather than helpful advice.
- For eg. Repeatedly telling you things like “Don’t hold her like that, hold her like this.”
- Try to keep in mind that everyone wants what is best for the baby and is trying to be helpful, even if it doesn’t always come off that way.
- If things are becoming problematic, it’s important to set firm boundaries early on. For eg. if your in-laws are overly opinionated about the way you’re parenting your baby, you and your partner should let them know to give you some extra space – so it doesn’t become a problem in the longer term.
- Between all the suggestions from friends and family members, and all the books or websites you may be reading, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and exhausted.
- Remember that more information isn’t always better and you don’t need to over complicate things.
- As long as you are open to it, you will learn as you go.
- One study of over 4,000 fathers found that 23% felt extremely isolated and 20% reported losing a number of friends.
- Continue to make plans with friends when possible, even if you have to switch up what things you can do.
- For eg. You might not be able to meet up with a friend for a run, but you can still go for a walk or grab coffee with your baby in tow.
- There are many online forums, blogs and communities that can help you connect with other dads and share your experiences.
- You can also search for peer networks in your area (eg. Meetup groups)
- Talking to a therapist can be a big boost to help you sort through your thoughts and the stresses of having a new child.
- Working with a therapist can help you get a fresh perspective on things and develop new strategies for living a happy and healthy life as a new dad.
- Learn how to reach out for professional support.
- Promoting Postpartum Mental Health in Fathers: Recommendations for Nurse Practitioners | American Journal of Men’s Health
- Caring is masculine: Stay-at-home fathers and masculine identity | Psychology of Men & Masculinity
- Fathers’ Roles in the Care and Development of Their Children: The Role of Pediatricians | Pediatrics
- Family Dynamics of the Stay-at-Home Father and Working Mother Relationship | American Journal of Men’s Health
- Promoting Fathers’ Mental Health During Children’s Early Childhood | NICHQ
- Dad’s involvement with baby early on associated with boost in mental development | Imperial College London
- The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds | Pediatrics
- Greater father involvement in infant parenting is beneficial for paternal mental health | Frontiers in Psychiatry
- Becoming a father can negatively impact men’s mental health: survey | Global News
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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